INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Franklin Township's pay to ride plan is unconstitutional, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in an official opinion Thursday.
"Under Indiana's Constitution and statutes, a public school corporation cannot charge fees for students to ride a bus to school to receive the public education to which they are entitled. The school cannot charge bus fees directly, and they cannot charge bus fees indirectly by outsourcing the driving to a third party," Zoeller said.
He issued an opinion after State Sen. Patricia Miller and State Rep. Mike Speedy asked that he research the legality of the busing fees imposed by Franklin Township Community School Corporation.
The Attornery General's published opinion does not carry any action or authority to force change.
The decision may not be binding, but it's a strike against the school district that passed along fees in excess of $40 dollars a month per child – to fill a massive debt hole.
Franklin Township schools contracted with Central Indiana Educational Service Center to operate the district's busing needs. CIESC charges parents a monthly fee to provide bus transportation for their children.
"It is easy to understand how financial constraints might lead school corporations to difficult funding choices, which in turn have unintended consequences. Many parents who cannot or will not pay the unconstitutional school bus fee are now forced to drive their children to and from school. However, the option chosen by Franklin Township Schools cannot be justified and should be discontinued and rectified to ensure the provision of a general and uniform common school system equally open to all," Zoeller said.
Zoeller's opinion follows one he issued in July 2010 stating that it was unconstitutional for districts to directly charge for transportation.
A private lawsuit is pending against the district related to the transportation fees.
The school district released a statement from Superintendant Dr. Walter Bourke following Zoeller's announcement:
Franklin Township Community School Corporation has received a legal opinion from the Indiana Attorney General, Mr. Greg Zoeller, regarding transportation services offered by the Central Indiana Educational Service Center (CIESC). We are in the process of reviewing it with our attorneys. After careful consideration of our options, the Administration and Board of Education will determine our course of action.
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