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Indiana Judiciary Ponders an Education Spending Mandate

2 min readBy: Paul Galindo

In a Background Paper published last year, we considered the long-term effects of judicial mandates requiring state legislatures to “fix” allegedly inadequate education systems.

Far from being a panacea, these mandates have largely failed to sustain recurring spending for classroom resources, teachers’ salaries, etc. At the same time, good-intentioned “dabbling” in education policy has left some courts with years of clogged dockets and strained resources. The New Jersey Abbott litigation, for example, consists of seventeen cases spanning twelve years:

Abbott v. Burke I, 495 A.2d 376 (N.J. 1985); Abbott v. Burke II, 575 A.2d 359 (N.J. 1990); Abbott v. Burke III, 643 A.2d 575 (N.J. 1994); Abbott v. Burke IV, 693 A.2d 417 (N.J. 1997); Abbott v. Burke V, 710 A.2d 450 (N.J. 1998); Abbott v. Burke VI, 748 A.2d 82 (N.J. 2000); Abbott v. Burke VII, 751 A.2d 1032 (N.J. 2000); Abbott v. Burke VIII, 790 A.2d 842 (N.J. 2002); Abbott v. Burke IX, 798 A.2d 602 (N.J. 2002); Abbott v. Burke X, 832 A.2d 891 (N.J. 2003); Abbott v. Burke XI, 832 A.2d 906 (N.J. 2003); Abbott v. Burke XII, 852 A.2d 185 (N.J. 2004); Abbott v. Burke XIII, 862 A.2d 538 (N.J. 2004); Abbott v. Burke XIV, 889 A. 2d 1063 (N.J. 2005); Abbott v. Burke XV, 901 A. 2d 299 (N.J. 2006); Abbott v. Burke XVI, 2006 WL 1388958 (N.J.) (May 22, 2006); Abbott v. Burke XVII, 935 A.2d 1152 (N.J. 2007).

In a recent decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals became the latest tribunal to entertain the possibility of an education spending mandate. See Bonner ex rel. Bonner v. Daniels, 885 N.E.2d 673 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). As a matter impacting citizens’ taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. liabilities, Indiana voters have a strong interest in participating in the shaping of education policy. Voters, however, would be unable to effectively voice their concerns if this matter is left to be decided by the Indiana judiciary.

The case is currently being petitioned for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court. Will this far-reaching matter be resolved by the politically accountable legislative process, or will it be committed to the possibility of modest educational gains at the expense of years of ceaseless litigation? Stay tuned.