By Nathan Barton
It’s right there in the State Constitution:
§ 1. Uniform system of free public schools. The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education. (South Dakota, Article 8)
Not just South Dakota:
Sec. 1. Legislature to provide for public schools. The legislature
shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a complete and uniform system of public instruction, embracing free elementary schools of every needed kind and grade, a university with such technical and professional departments as the public good may require and the means of the state allow, and such other institutions as may be necessary. (Wyoming, Article 7)
So too in Colorado:
Section 2. Establishment and maintenance of public schools. The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously. One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year; any school district failing to have such school shall not be entitled to receive any portion of the school fund for that year. (Colorado Article 9)
So, these states (and I presume, the other forty-seven) are to provide what we call today a free public education. These states also have prohibitions on providing funds to “sectarian institutions” (that is, religious organizations). So the money to pay for education
Section 7. Aid to private schools, churches, sectarian purpose, forbidden. Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose. (Colorado Article 9)
A “free education” is now seen as a critical American right. There is nothing in the US Constitution that demands this or even hits at it. Prior to the War between the States, I am not aware of any State constitution that dictated such.
Education has always been important to Americans, but it was originally something provided by family (parents), their churches, or a community getting together and hiring a “schoolmaster” or a “schoolmarm” to teach their children. Even at the higher education level, there were originally no “state schools” – and at least some which are today state schools were originally private or associated with churches.
The closest thing to government funding was the dedication of two sections (square miles) in each township (36 square miles) as “School lands” meant to both provide income (though rents) to support schools (well, the teachers) and a place to build a school.
So why did this develop? I cannot tell you the full story in a commentary, but it is definitely related to the so-called egalitarian nature of the Republican Party, and its roots in the failed socialist revolutions in Europe in 1848, resulting in thousands of refugees fleeing to America. Many of them (despite being opposed to their homeland’s government) brought with them the idea of government-run, tax-funded schools. Notable among these were the Prussians and their school system, brought to life in America though such people as Karl and Margarite Schutz (a very prominent GOP member and political ally of Lincoln) and Horace Mann. But there were many others.
This was combined with a nativist and anti-Catholic bigotry that still today should be seen as shameful. Irish immigrants (and later Italian ones) were despised for their Catholicism and needed to be “integrated” into American society. One way was obviously to get rid of the parochial schools that Catholic parishes and dioceses operated. The opponents could not move directly against them, so “free” public schools were a way to do that.
As usual, these regressives wanted (and got) government to take over another facet of life and liberty. And as usual, they lied and had all these wonderful reasons. Do these sound familiar? “It is for the children.” “It makes us all equal.” “It provides for equal opportunity.” “It builds a better society.” “It unites us.”
By the end of the nineteenth century, it was virtually universal: “public” (government-run, tax-funded (GRTF)) schools in every state and every community. Together with compulsory attendance laws. (Miscalled “Compulsory Education” as if you can really force anyone to learn.) Together with State-owned and -operated teacher collages (often originally called “normal schools) and State and County superintendents of schools, and of course, taxes. Lots of taxes.
Skip ahead a century – though most of the corruption and worse only took a few decades). Now in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the public schools are disasters. Like everything else government touches (yes, even “justice” and “defense”), the “education” system had deteriorated and warped into nightmares. Not everywhere and every one, but the great majority.
The reasons are myriad, of course, and perhaps worth discussing another time. Political control, corporate parasites (contractors, publishers, food companies, other vendors), unions, educrats, and more all helped.
So that today, we can answer the question, how much is a free “education” worth? Exactly what we (parents and students) pay for it. Nothing. “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” is again proved.