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In submitting the following work to the inhabitants and officers of school districts, the various town and county officers charged with the local adminis* tration of the common school system in its several departments, and the putn lie generally, the compiler has been actuated by an earnest desire to diffuse as widely as possible, a more thorough and accurate knowledge of the history and details of that system than has hitherto appeared. Having been connected with the department of Common Schools, with a slight interval, for the past fourteen years, during which period five successive Superintendents have been in office, and the system has undergone numerous important modifications, the necessary materials for a complete digest of its various provisions? as well as for the requisite adaptation of the numerous expositions, decisions;, and instructions of the department, to the present state of the law, were probably more fully within hia reach than that of any other individual.
The volume of Laws and Decisions prepared and published by Gen. Dix in 183*7, however valuable for its intrinsic interest, and for its clear and lucid exposition of the fundamental principles of our system of public instruction^ has become to a very great extent inapplicable to the existing details of that system; and where relied upon as a guide, by officers of districts, of towns and counties, must necessarily embarrass and mislead. The compiler of the present work has therefore deemed it his duty to obviate this result so far as may be in Iris power, by giving first, a general abstract of the existing provisions of the law in reference to the powers, duties and liabilities of each class of officers connected with the administration, of the system, and of the inhabitants of the several school districts; and secondly, a digested view under each head, of the various instructions, expositions, and decisions of the department, or rather of the principles of such instructions and decisions, in their application to the law as it now stands: preceded by the general laws and the various local provisions applicable to the several cities and larger towns.
A historical sketch of the origin and progress of the system from its inception to the present period, accompanied by a brief exposition of its present condition, has been annexed to the work, with the design of rendering it more acceptable as well to our own citizens as to those of other portions of the Union, who may feel an interest in tracing the gradual advancement of our legislation on this important subject, and in ascertaining the prominent features of our system, as moulded by the successive improvements consequent upon an experience of nearly forty years.
The importance of an uniform and enlightened administration of a system embracing so great a variety of interests and forming so material an ingredient in the intellectual, moral, and social civilization of the community, has not been one of the least among the considerations which have led to the publication of this work: and if through its means any facilities shall have been afforded for the accomplishment of this desirable result, the time and pains spent in its preparation will not have been regretted. That it is free from imperfections and errors it would be presumptuous to assert; but in commending it to those for whose use it is specially designed, and to the friends of popular education generally, the compiler can accompany it with the assurance that no efforts on his part have been spared to render it worthy of their attention and regard.
Albany, May, 1851.
SECRETARY'S OFFICE, ) Department Of Common Schools. )
Albany, May 15, 1851.
Having examined the following "Digest of the Common School System of the State of New York," I take pleasure in saying that it is a full and correct exposition of that system; and entitled to the confidence of officers and inhabitants of school districts, Town Superintendents of common schools, and others interested in the cause of popular education.
CHRISTOPHER MORGAN, Sup't of Common Schools,
ORIGIN, PROGRESS, AND PRESENT CONDITION
COMMON SCHOOL SYSTEM OF NEW YORK, From the Origin of the State Government to the Tear Ml
At the first meeting of the State Legislature after the adoption of the Constitution, the governor, Geo. Clinton, called the attention of that body to the subject of education. The following is an extract from his speech:
"Neglect of the education of youth is one of the evils consequent upon war. Perhaps there is scarce any thing more worthy your attention than the revival and encouragement of seminaries of learning; and nothing by which we can more satisfactorily express our gratitude to the Supreme Being for his past favors; since piety and virtue are generally the offspring of an enlightened understanding.
In this year, the act incorporating the Regents of the University was passed.
In 1789 an act was passed, requiring the surveyor-general, to set apart two lots in each township, of the public land thereafter to be surveyed, for gospel and school purposes.
The following is an extract from the report of the Regents of the University, for 1793:
"On this occasion we cannot help suggesting to the legislature the numerous advantages which we conceive would accrue to the citizens in general,from the institution of schools in various parts of the state, for the purpose of instructing children in the lower branches of education, such as reading their native language with propriety, and so much of writing and arithmetic, as to enable them when they come forwardinto active life, to transact with accuracy and dispatch, the business arising from their daily intercourse with each other. The mode of accomplishing this desirable object, we respectfully submit to the wisdom of the legislature.
"The attention which the legislature has evinced to promote literature, by the liberal provision heretofore made, encourages, with all deference, to suggest the propriety of rendering it permanent by setting apart for that salutary purpose some of the unappropriated lands. The value of these will be enhanced by the increase of population. The state will thus never want the means of promoting useful science; and will thereby secure the rational happiness, and fix the liberty of the people on the most permanent basis—that of knowledge and virtue."
At the opening of the session of the legislature in 1795, Gov. Clinton thus again alluded to the subject:
"While it is evident that the general establishment and liberal endowment of academies are highly to be commended, and are attended with the most beneficial consequences, yet it cannot be denied that they are principally confined to the children of the opulent, and that a great portion of the communiiy is excluded from their immediate advantages. The establishment of common schools throughout the state, is happily calculated to remedy this inconvenience, and will therefore engage your early and decided consideration."
On the 11th of January, the Assembly appointed a committee consisting of Jonathan Nicoll Havens, of Suffolk, as chairman; David Brooks, of Dutchess, David Pye, of Orange, Ebenezer Purdy, of Westchester, Daniel Gray, of Rensselaer, Adam Comstock, of Saratoga, and Richard Furman, of New York, to take into consideration that portion of the Governor's Message relating to the establishment of Common Schools throughout the state. Mr. Havens, from this committee, reported on the 19th of February "An Act for the encouragement of schools," which passed the House on the 4th, and the Senate on the 22d of March, and became a law on the 9th of April 1795. By this act the sum of £20,000 or $50,000 was annually appropriated for five years, "for the purpose of encouraging and maintaining schools in the several cities and towns in this state, in which the children of the inhabitants residing in the state, shall be instructed in the English language, or be taught English grammar, arithmetic, mathematics, and such other branches of knowledge as are most useful and necessary to complete a good English education." This sum was at first apportioned to the several counties according to their representation in the legislature, and afterwards according to the number of electors for members of assembly; and to the several towns according to the number of taxable inhabitants of each. The boards of supervisors were required to raise by tax upon each town, a sum equal to one-half of that appropriated by the state, to be applied in like manner, while this bill was under discussion in the assembly, a motion to add a proviso, "that no town after receiving for one year its proportion of the moneys appropriated by the act, shall be entitled in any year thereafter to receive its proportion of the same, unless the frecholders and inhabitants of such town, should, at their next preceding town-meeting, have voted a sum for the use of schools in such town, equal to at least one-half of the proportion of the moneys to which such town shall have been entitled by this act in the preceding year; and in case such sum shall not have been voted to be raised as aforesaid by any town, the supervisors of the county should apportion the moneys to which such town would otherwise have been entitled, among the other towns in such county, which should have voted for such sum" was rejected, by a vote of 30 to 27. The adoption of this proviso, would have left it discretionary with the inhabitants of any town to comply with the requisitions of the act, and thereby entitle itself to receive its proportion of the public money; a measure subsequently resorted to, as will hereafter be seen, but speedily abandoned on experience of its effects.
The prominent features of the act of 1795, were the following: Not less than three, nor more than seven commissioners, were annually to be chosen by the electors of the respective towns, to whom were to be committed the supervision and direction of the schools, and the apportionment of public money among the several districts. The inhabitants residing in different sections of each town, were authorized "to associate together for the purpose of procuring good and sufficient schoolmasters, and for erecting and maintaining schools in such and so many parts of the town where they may reside, as shall be most convenient," and to appoint two or more trustees, who were directed to " confer with the commissioners concerning the qualification of the master or masters that they may have employed, or may intend to employ in their schools; and concerning every other matter which may relate to the welfare of their school, or to the propriety of erecting or maintaining the same, to the intent that they may obtain the determination of the said commissioners whether the said school will be entitled to a part of the moneys allotted to or raised in that town by virtue of this act, and whether the abilities and moral character of the master or masters employed, or intended to be employed therein, are such as will meet with their approbation." The share of public money to be paid to each district, was to be apportioned by the commissioners, " according to the number of days for which instruction shall appear, by the annual report of the trustees, to have been given in each of the said schools, in such manner that the school in which the greater number of days of instruction shall appear to have been given, shall have a proportionably larger sum. And if it shall at any time appear to the said commissioners, that the abilities or moral character of the master or masters of any schools, are not such that they ought to be entrusted with the education of the youth, or that any of the branches of learning taught in any school, are not such as are intended to-receive encouragement from the moneys appropriated by this act, the said commissioners shall notify in writing the said trustees of such school thereof; and to the time of such notification, and no longer, shall any allowance be made to such school unless the same thereafter be conducted to the approbation of the said commissioners." The commissioners were required to give to the trustees of each district, an order on the county treasurer for the sum to which the district was entitled, ^©visions were also made for annual returns from the several districts, towns and counties. An abstract of these returns, from sixteen out of the twenty-three counties of the state, for the year 1798, shows a total of 1,352 schools, organized according to the act, in which 59,660 children were taught.
In the year 1799 an act was passed directing the raising, by means of four successive lotteries, of the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, $12,500 of which, were to be paid to the Regents of the University, to be by them distributed among the Academies in such manner as they shall deem most proper, and the residue, $87,500 was to be paid into the treasury, to be appropriated for the encouragement of common schools, as the legislature should thereafter direct. This bill probably grew out of a project proposed by the Hon. Jedediah Peck, of Otsego. "It is due " observes Judge Hammond, in his Political History, "to this plain, unlettered farmer, to add that he was intent upon making some permanent provisions for these institutions, and that he formed the project of establishing a common school fund in pursuance of the example then lately furnished by Connecticut, the state from whence he emigrated: that he never lost sight of it; and that to his indefatigable and persevering efforts, aided by Mr. Adam Cqmstock, of Saratoga, another uneducated and plain, but clear sighted and patriotic man, we are principally indebted for our school fund and common school system. What military chieftain—what mere conqueror by brute force, has conferred so deep, so enduring an obligation upon posterity?"
At the opening of the Sessionof the Legislature in 1800, Gov. Jay called the attention of both Houses to the subject of Common Schools, in the following language:
"Among other objects which will present themselves to you, there is one which I earnestly recommend to your notice and patronage. I mean our institutions for the education of youth. The importance of common schools is best estimated by the good effects of them, where they most abound and are the best regulated."
On the 25th of March of the same year, the Assembly, by a vote of fifty-seven to thirty-six, adopted the following resolution, offered by Mr. Comstock, of Saratoga:
"Resolved, That the 'Act for the Encouragement of Schools,' passed the 9th day of April, 1795, ought to be revised and amended ; and that out of the annual revenue arising to this State from its stock and other funds, the sum of $50,000 be annually appropriated for the encouragement of schools, for the term of five years."
On the 3d of April, subsequently, a clause to this effect was inserted in the annual supply bill, on Mr. Comstock's motion, by a vote of fifty-one to thirtyfive. The Senate, however, by a vote of nineteen to sixteen, struck out the clause. The house, on the return of the bill, at first refused toconcur with the Senate in this amendment, by a vote of forty-two to forty-one; but subsequently reconsidered its vote, and assented to the amendment, on the last day but one of the Session.
By an act passed on the 3d of Aprit .1801, the sum of $100,000 was directed to be raised by lottery, of which one-half was ordered to be paid into the Treasury for the use of Common Schools ; leaving to future legislatures the discretion of making such application of it as they might judge most conducive to