United States Education: Whose Responsibility Is It?

I believe that we live in an amazing country. I was a student of history and I was always amazed at how the story of the American Revolution was told.  This band of farmers and revolutionaries who rise up against an empire–the largest empire of the time–to win their independence. Led by a war hero, George Washington, this band of untrained and broken misfits did the impossible and won their independence.  On top of that, there was this collection of some of the most educated thinkers and pious men who literally risked their lives to write a Declaration of Independence and later a document as amazing as the U.S. Constitution.

Obviously, we can debate the flaws of these men, their intentions, and other aspects of the political and economic climate of the time, but one thing is clear–these men were determined to create a new nation, under God, and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence).

Monument to the old Boston Latin School structure
Early in the development of the United States, education was certainly a priority. The first American schools opened during colonial days, were largely located in churches, and designed to educate by “traditional English methods of family, church, community, and apprenticeship”. Boston Latin School was established in 1635 and is the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States.  Among its many alumni include John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin (Boston Latin School, 2017). The first tax-supported school was established in 1644 in Dedham, Massachusetts and managed by Reverend Ralph Wheelock (First Church and Parish, 2017). Later schools were established throughout the colonies but primarily educated white boys. All New England towns were required to set up schools. In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony made compulsory education a requirement as a means to improve the educational and economic standing of the children of the colonies (Jernegan, 1918).

As the nation developed, each state and colony adopted similar public education laws. The revenue stream and finance models for funding schools varies from state to state but the purpose of public has remained the same–to provide opportunity for children to gain access to knowledge and information with the purpose of equalizing opportunity and access to various social constructs.

However, there are no shortage of examples of how states have struggled with the burden of financing public schools.  Whether the discussion is focused on voucher programs, charter schools, or addressing shortfalls in funding traditional K-12 public schools, the debate continues to revolve around responsibility.

In a state where compulsory public education is a requirement, who ultimately has the responsibility to fund education?  There are clear examples throughout history that the public assumed the responsibility for maintaining public, free schools and various federal laws have been developed to provide expanded access for women, students of color, students with special needs, and for students from low income communities.

Given all of these examples, why is funding public education such a difficult undertaking?



BLS History. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2017, from http://www.bls.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=206116&type=d

Jernegan, M. (1918). “Compulsory Education in the American Colonies“. The School Review: I. New England, Vol. 226, No. 10, The University of Chicago Press.

First Church and Parish (2017). “375 of History in Short“. Dedham Universal Unitarian. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from http://www.dedhamuu.org/our-history