INDIANAPOLIS – A lawsuit filed in Marion County on January 26, 2021, asserts that the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) unlawfully changed the statutory school funding rule to establish a system where some students receiving virtual education receive more funding than other students receiving the same virtual instruction. The plaintiff in the case is Letrisha Weber, the mother of two public school virtual students. The National Coalition for Public School Options is supporting the litigation in an attempt to achieve fairness and equity for Indiana’s families.
The rule change provides students who were not counted as “virtual students” in spring 2020 but were receiving virtual instruction in fall 2020 to be funded at 100%, with no regard to circumstance. Other virtual students, whose families chose to enroll them in online public schools in both spring 2020 and fall 2020, would only be funded at 85% of the basic tuition support amount. In addition to being patently unfair, the SBOE simply lacks the authority to modify a school funding statute by rule. Only the legislature can make a change like that.
“The reality of the situation is unfair and creates two distinct classes of virtual-instruction students in Indiana,” says Weber. “Those who became virtual students by circumstance after February 2020 – whether because of the pandemic or any other situation – receive full 100% funding. Those who are virtual students by choice – which includes my children and thousands of others throughout Indiana – are funded at only 85% in the formula. The timing of when the student went online determines the ‘worth’ of the student and some students are worth 15% less than others. In my opinion, all students are equal and should be funded equally.”
The lawsuit specifically challenges the method by which the rule was changed. During an SBOE meeting on September 2, 2020, the lawsuit states that the Board exceeded its rulemaking authority by “promulgating a rule that alters how some virtual students are funded from the clear statutory mandates for all virtual students….” According to the lawsuit, in doing this the SBOE violated the separation of powers mandated in the Indiana Constitution by changing the rule without due legislative process.
In fact, in a letter issued prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Senator Roderic Bray, President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate, stated that changing the school funding formula “would require legislation to be passed by the General Assembly in our next session.”
The lawsuit requests that the rule be declared invalid and unconstitutional and that the appropriation of public funds be enjoined until the General Assembly fully and fairly allocates funding for all public school students.
“Our goal is for the legislature to provide full, fair funding for all public students through the prescribed legislative process,” says Weber. “This arbitrary rule enacted by SBOE unfairly creates two separate classes of virtual students. It exceeded the authority of the SBOE. And it must be overturned in favor of action by the legislature that will consider the funding needs of all students on an equal footing.”