Indiana Court Considers Judicial Involvement in Education Spending

December 4, 2008

This morning, the Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether Indiana’s Constitution provides a right to a quality education, to be enforced by judicial orders to increase spending or raise taxes. I’m in Indianapolis for the hearing in the case, Bonner v. Daniels, and will report on the blog how it goes.

The Tax Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that such a ruling would violate the text and original meaning of the Indiana Constitution, and ignores the problems other states have had with judicial mandates for education spending.

“Nothing in the Education Clause establishes a specific, defined level of education that must be attained as long as the state maintains a generally supportive stance towards knowledge and learning,” the brief states. “The Education Clause guarantees a free public education, not the right to a ‘quality’ education.”

The Tax Foundation brief also notes that Indiana’s the lower court focused improperly on funding as the only way to improve state education:

It is problematic to say that more money necessarily means better performance in public schools. A focus on dollar amounts ignores potential efficiency increases, the diminishing returns of added spending, and alternative uses for each dollar. Courts are ill-prepared to weigh these competing policy concerns, and those that have tried have quickly found themselves mired in endless lawsuits to quantify unquantifiable standards. The Supreme Court should avoid micromanagement of education and finance policy.

The Tax Foundation has prepared a report, “Appropriate by Litigation: Estimating the Cost of Judicial Mandates,” Tax Foundation Background Paper No. 55, July 2007, available at http://tinyurl.com/tfedfin, that outlines the serious problems encountered by courts as they embark on micromanaging education policy and mandating funding levels.

The Tax Foundation brief was filed on August 5, 2008, and can be found at http://www.taxfoundation.org/legacy/show/23497.html. The Education Law Center, a group supportive of judicial mandates for education spending, filed a brief in response to the Tax Foundation’s brief, but the Indiana Supreme Court surprisingly declined to let it be filed.


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