Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said that it is unconstitutional for school corporations to charge parents for their children to ride school buses.
Zoeller’s July 12 advisory letter to the Indiana State Board of Accounts cited the state’s first constitution of 1850-1851 as well as several public acts, U.S. Supreme Court and Indiana Supreme Court rulings, and a previous Attorney General opinion and could find no such legal or legislative authority granted to state schools. Zoeller concluded: “The legislature has not provided the governing body of a school corporation with the specific authority to assess, charge, or collect a school bus rider fee. Transportation of students to and from their respective school are deemed a ‘part of public education.'”
Pete Baxter, the retiring state director of transportation at the Department of Education, said the opinion came as a result of “a lot of buzz in our state” revolving around an attempt by a school district to begin the fee-based service, and soon Zoeller was asked for legal clarification.
“A lot of schools have started asking the question, ‘Can we?'” said Baxter.
Justin Wilczynski is the transportation director at Franklin Township Community School Corporation in the south Indianapolis suburb of Whiteland. He said his district was looking at implementing the fees starting with the coming school year after school attorneys researched similar programs in place at three other school districts for many years and obtained relevant documentation of the practices. But, Wilczynski added, Franklin has scrapped its plans following Zoeller’s opinion.
As a result, Franklin is investigating further potential cuts to its transportation services.
“What happens in February or March when we have no money left?” he asked.