Friday, July 22, 2016

Washington State History about Public Education

From Robert Cruickshank of Democracy for America this story from HistoryLink:
History matters. This article tells the story of the so-called "Barefoot Schoolboy Act," passed in 1895. It was the first time the state of Washington attempted to fully fund our public schools, and it was thanks to the work of Populist progressive and future governor John Rogers. The article shows how the "paramount duty" language was created in the first place, and why it is so important that our state live up to that promise and fully fund our schools.

This was one of the core promises made when Washington became a state. It is time the legislature followed in John Rogers' bold footsteps and once again ensured all public schools in this state, and every child in this state, gets a fully funded and equitable education.
 From the article (some content will sound very of the minute to our current situation):

On March 14, 1895, the Washington State Legislature approves what is commonly called the "Barefoot Schoolboy Act," which for the first time provides a uniform means of producing recurring income for the state's public schools by imposing a direct tax. 

Prior to the act, educational funds were derived from a welter of sources, none of which were very predictable and some of which, due to circumstance, tended to favor a few districts over others. 
The bill requires the state to impose an annual tax on the value of property sufficient to provide, in combination with other available funds, a minimum of $6 per year for each school-age child in the state. The Barefoot Schoolboy Act is largely the handiwork of state Representative John Rankin Rogers (1838-1901), a Populist from Puyallup. The renown he garners as an advocate for education is widely credited with his election as governor in 1897. 

When the Territory's voters, this time correctly anticipating statehood, ratified a new constitution on October 1, 1889, they approved a document that at last put education at the very forefront of the government's obligation to the governed. The preamble to the article that addressed education in this new constitution could not have been more clear or commanding:
"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex" (Constitution of the State of Washington, Article IX, Section 1).
Education was now explicitly stated to be the state's "paramount duty." Gone was the somewhat indeterminate "as soon as practicable" language of the 1878 constitution.
Early items of focus for public education:
"All common schools shall be taught in the English language, and instruction shall be given in the following branches, viz.: Reading, penmanship, orthography, written arithmetic, mental arithmetic, geography, English grammar, physiology and hygiene, with special reference to the effects of alcoholic stimulants and narcotics on the human system, history of the United States, and such other studies as may be prescribed by the board of education. Attention must be given during the entire course to the cultivation of manners, to the laws of health, physical exercise, ventilation and temperature of the school room" (1889-1890 Wash. Session Laws, Ch. XII, Title IX, Sec. 46).    
 You'll note that, even then, PE was an important part of public education.

The Legacy of the Barefoot Schoolboy Act
The method of subsidizing local education through taxation on property values of course did not solve all of the state's school-funding issues. The Barefoot Schoolboy Act mandated a $6 allocation for each school-age child, whether or not he or she was actually attending school. As school populations burgeoned near the turn of the century and beyond, funds again became scarce. In 1899, the figure allotted for each school-age child was increased from $6 to $8 per child, and in 1901 it was increased again, to $10.

But the act did accomplish one major thing -- it reaffirmed the principle that the state has an absolute duty to provide adequate educational funding for its children, and it provided a method, however imperfect, to raise the revenue necessary to carrying out that obligation. Ever since the act was passed, school funding has been inextricably tied to one of the most contentious issues in politics, taxation. There is no indication that this uneasy relationship will ease any time soon.     

2 comments:

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for posting this! It really struck me that getting a statewide funding system for public schools in Washington was a key accomplishment of the Populist movement during the Progressive Era. That suggests to me it's going to take another populist movement, a progressive one, to ensure that our public schools are fully funded here in the 21st century.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That's it in a nutshell, Robert.