The public schools enroll 956,000 students: 65% White, 17% Latino, 9% African American, and 6% Asian, with 38% living in poverty, and 8% learning English. The State spends $15,321 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them, especially the university at Cambridge [and] public schools and grammar schools in the towns….” Mass. Const. Pt. 2, C. 5, § 2.
In 1993, in McDuffy v. Secretary of Educ., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the constitution’s education clause imposes a duty on the Commonwealth to ensure the education of all children and declared that the funding system violated that duty. In response, the State adopted a new school funding system that improved equity and opportunity.
Relying on the Commonwealth’s commitment to the essential role of education beginning in early colonial times, the Court wrote: “The duty is established so that the rights and liberties of the people will be preserved...Put otherwise, an educated people is viewed as essential to the preservation of the entire constitutional plan: a free, sovereign, constitutional democratic State.”
The Court concluded that “the duty to ‘cherish’ public schools [is] a duty to ensure that the public schools achieve their object and educate the people.” Like several other state high courts, the Court adopted the guidelines set forth by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Rose v. Council for Better Education.
In 2005, in Hancock v. Driscoll, the Court acknowledged shortcomings in the current funding system and suggested that the Legislature make improvements, but the Court found the funding system did not violate the Commonwealth’s constitutional duty.