Court rules that Indiana public schools not required to provide bus service

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(March 24, 2015) – The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that schools are not required to provide bus service to students.

The vote was unanimous.

The Court’s decision overturns an appeals court ruling involving Franklin Township.

The busing debate has been ongoing in Indiana for years.

Districts claim their hands are tied because of property tax caps, citing losses in local funding over the years.

Tuesday buses were parked at Franklin Township Community School Corporation, not because they're out of service, but instead because it's spring break.

"There is no conversation in Franklin Township right now about eliminating transportation," said Dr. Flora Reichanadter, Superintendent.

That wasn't the story a few years ago.

The district got sued by parents after the 2011-2012 school year when they cut free bus service and hired a private group to provide it. That group charged parents for the service, though the district later reinstated free bus service after community outcry.

A lower court ruled the fees violated the state constitution.

Tuesday the Indiana Supreme Court said bus service isn't a student's right.

"The decision to cease transportation services does not deny open access to public education, " the decision reads, "It will inevitably require some families to make alternative accommodations, but it will not close the schoolhouse doors."

"We continue to have to live with a lot less money for our tax-supported funds, one of which is transportation. So in the next couple of years we will struggle with paying for transportation," Reichanadter said.

The less money, she said, is a result of property tax caps passed by lawmakers.

It's a fight we've seen play out in the past year as Decatur Township Schools in May asked voters for more money in a referendum. It passed, and the district did not have to cut busing. It will bring in $3.85 million per year over the next seven years.

In cash-strapped Muncie, a referendum there failed in 2013, and the district's had very public struggles about finding funds to pay for buses.

One parent told us she and her family left Franklin Township after the bus debacle, moving to nearby Greenwood, signs it's an issue parents feel passionately about.

"We lived in Franklin Township, and they did do that for a while. And we moved. We moved out of the district," said Jennifer Stevenson.

Districts do have to give the state of Indiana three years notice if they are trying to eliminate busing.

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