K-12 public schools in Indiana enroll just over 1 million students, with 42% in poverty, 4% learning English, 21% minorities, and annual expenditures of almost $9.3 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In 2009, the Indiana Supreme Court held that while the state constitution requires a uniform system of public schools, it does not set quality standards.
In 2010, school district plaintiffs filed a case that challenged three aspects of the state school funding formula, including its “complexity index,” designed to “allocate funding towards school corporations with higher percentages of [low-wealth] students.” It was dubbed an “anti-equity” case.
In 2010, three school district plaintiffs filed Hamilton Southeastern Sch. v. Daniels. Plaintiffs argued that the state funding system under funded rapidly growing districts, but also was the first school funding case to argue against the part of the state's formula that provided funding to address the educational needs of children in poverty. The trial court denied the state’s motion to dismiss, but plaintiffs withdrew the case after legislative action in 2011.
Until 2007, Indiana was one of only seven states where the courts had not reviewed the constitutionality of the state's school funding system. Plaintiffs withdrew the 1987 case, Lake Central v. State, after the state developed a new funding system.
In 2007, plaintiffs filed Bonner v. Daniels, arguing that the state’s school funding system is insufficient to provide all students an adequate education, as required by the state constitution. The Supreme Court of Indiana granted defendants’ motion to dismiss in 2009, holding that the state constitution does not impose upon government an affirmative duty to achieve any particular standard of educational quality and denying plaintiffs the opportunity to go to trial.
In 2010, plaintiffs filed Hamilton Southeastern Sch. v. Daniels, which alleged that the state school funding system harms rapidly growing school districts, and sought an end to the equity provisions in the state funding formula. In November 2010, the trial court denied the state’s motion to dismiss, distinguishing Hamilton from Bonner by concluding that plaintiffs in Hamilton challenge the non-uniformity of the system, rather than its adequacy.
“Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.” Ind. Const. art. 8, § 1.
In 2009 in Bonner v. Daniels, the Supreme Court of Indiana concluded that:
“After its precatory introduction stressing the importance of knowledge and learning to the preservation of a free government, the text of the Education Clause expresses two duties of the General Assembly. The first is the duty to encourage moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement. The second is the duty to provide for a general and uniform system of open common schools without tuition. The first is general and aspirational; the second is more concrete-the assignment of a specific task with performance standards (“general and uniform,” “tuition without charge,” and “equally open to all”). Judicial enforceability is more plausible as to the second duty than the first.” 907 N.E.2d 516.
The court further held that:
“As can be seen from the text of the Education Clause, its language speaks only of a general duty to provide for a system of common schools and does not require the attainment of any standard of resulting educational quality. The phrases “general and uniform,” “tuition ... without charge,” and “equally open to all” do not require or prescribe any standard of educational achievement that must be attained by the system of common schools. The Clause says nothing whatsoever about educational quality.”
The court also wrote that:
“…Article 8, concerning education, does not speak in terms of a right or entitlement to education…To the extent that an individual student may have a right, entitlement, or privilege to pursue public education, any such right derives from the enactments of the General Assembly, not from the Indiana Constitution.”
Therefore, the court concluded that:
“…the Education Clause of the Indiana Constitution does not impose upon government an affirmative duty to achieve any particular standard of resulting educational quality. This determination is delegated to the sound legislative discretion of the General Assembly. And in the absence of such a constitutional duty, there is no basis for the judiciary to evaluate whether it has been breached.”
In Bonner v. Daniels, the plaintiffs sought funding for full-day kindergarten and preschool as integral components of a public education. The complaint cited the national research on the benefits of full-day kindergarten and high quality preschool on children’s school readiness skills and later success in school and life. The case was dismissed, however, and the dismissal was upheld on appeal to the state supreme court.
Education Law Center submitted an amicus brief in Bonner v. Daniels along with other organizations. The brief, which examined decisions of courts in many sister states, argued that the plaintiffs’ claims were justiciable and that the court was capable of discerning and applying judicially-manageable standards in the case. The appellate court cited the brief in its decision.
Indiana does not offer a state funded pre-K program.