Pioneering public schools?

It was the Puritans of Massachusetts who first pioneered public schools, and who decided to use property-tax receipts to pay for them. The Massachusetts Act of 1642 required that parents see to it that their children knew how to read and write; when that law was roundly ignored, the colony passed the Massachusetts School Law of 1647, which required every town with 50 households or more hire someone to teach the children to read and write. This public education was made possible by a property-tax law passed the previous year, according to a paper, “The Local Property Tax for Public Schools: Some Historical Perspectives,” by Billy D. Walker, a Texas educator and historian. Determined to carry out their vision for common school, the Puritans instituted a property tax on an annual basis—previously, it had only been used to raise money when needed. The tax charged specific people based on “visible” property including their homes as well as their sheep, cows, and pigs. Connecticut followed in 1650 with a law requiring towns to teach local children, and used the same type of financing.

–Alana Semuels, Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School


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