Student Well-Being

Indiana Court Strikes Down Mandatory Fees

By Laura Greifner — April 11, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Indiana Supreme Court has struck down a school district’s $20 school activity fee as a violation of the state constitution because, the court said, it is equivalent to a tuition charge.

The 22,100-student Evansville-Vanderburgh school district imposed the fee on all K-12 students in the 2002-03 school year. The money was used to pay for nurses, school counselors, alternative education, and activities such as music, athletics, and drama, among other purposes. According to court papers, the fee was part of an attempt to balance the district’s budget, which had a $2.3 million deficit in 2002.

Some parents of students in the district, including some whose children qualify for federally subsidized school lunches, filed the suit in 2002.

The Indiana Constitution guarantees a public education “wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

“The mandatory fee [the district] imposed generally on all students, whether the student avails himself of a service or participates in a program of activity or not, becomes a charge for attending a public school and obtaining a public education,” Justice Robert D. Rucker wrote for the majority in the 4-1 decision on March 30.

Fran Quigley, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented the plaintiffs, said that even though the fee was small, “for some of our clients, it was a financial hardship.”

“Indiana’s constitution clearly states that tuition should be without charge, and it seemed clear to us and our clients that the type of fees that were being charged in Evansville fell into that category of tuition,” Mr Quigley said.

The state high court also held that for extracurricular activities, not considered part of a publicly funded education, “a reasonable fee may be assessed, but only against those students who participate in or take advantage of them.”

Tom Hutton, a staff lawyer with the National School Boards Association, in Alexandria, Va., said that many districts charge fees for athletics or other extracurricular activities, but that the charge depends upon whether a student wishes to participate.

“The problem here [in the Indiana case] is everybody pays whether they participate or not,” he said.

Drivers’ Education

The decision left some unanswered questions for Indiana school districts.

“I think we’re more confused now about what we can charge for than before [this case] went to trial,” said Julie M. Slavens, a staff lawyer with the Indiana School Boards Association. She said that because the ruling says school districts cannot charge for services related to the state-mandated curriculum, districts are faced with some funding dilemmas.

“We’re required to offer drivers’ ed,” Ms. Slavens said. “It’s mandated by the state board of education, so it should be provided for. Does that mean we can’t charge a reasonable fee for gas, oil, wear and tear on the cars now?”

Neither Mr. Hutton nor Ms. Slavens knew of any other districts across the country that had been imposing a mandatory activity fee on all students.

A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Indiana Court Strikes Down Mandatory Fees


School & District Management Webinar Fostering Student Well-Being with Programs That Work
Protecting student well-being has never been more important. Join this webinar to learn how to ensure your programs yield the best outcomes.
Reading & Literacy Webinar 'Science of Reading': What Are the Components?
Learn how to adopt a “science of reading” approach to early literacy to effectively build students’ vocabulary and content knowledge.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Effective Communication for School Leaders: A Forum
Join us for an afternoon of discussions on how school and district leaders can motivate staff, make the most of social media, and more.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion How to Help Students Handle Setbacks
Everyone gets discouraged sometimes. Angela Duckworth explores how educators can help their students figure out what to do next.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Opinion ‘The Timing Is Critical’: How Schools Can Help Refugee Students
Two clinical psychologists suggest several low-cost and effective interventions to help welcome refugee and immigrant families.
Jeffrey P. Winer & Luna A. Mulder
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of a garden growing from adversity
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Half of School Nurses Report Being Harassed, Threatened
The past few years have been tough for school nurses for a few different reasons.
2 min read
Missy Gendron RN, Lewiston High School nurse, unpacks pooled COVID-19 testing materials on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Maine. Gendron is going to be doing a walk through with staff next week. Classroom pooled testing is planned for the week following. Consent for COVID-19 pooled testing is being collected from parents now.
Missy Gendron, a nurse at Lewiston High School in Maine, unpacks COVID-19 testing materials in September 2021.
Andree Kehn/Sun Journal via AP
Student Well-Being School Sports Participation Drops, Raising Concern About 'Physical Learning Loss'
But interest in e-sports and inclusive teams is rising.
5 min read
The Michigan City High School Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a Future Wolves basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the high school.
The varsity girls basketball team at Michigan City High School in Michigan City, Ind., hosted a basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls last spring.
Kelley Smith/The News Dispatch via AP