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The relation that should exist between central and local authorities has long been a favorite theme for persons interested in various theories of government. Many arguments have been produced, some based upon fact and others upon opinion, as to the relative merits of centralized and localized plans of government.

In the field of education, as in governmental activities in general, the question of control has long been debated, and material presenting the issues from a theoretical standpoint is available. Little attempt has been made, however, to ascertain by statistical investigation the facts as to the actual status of educational control, either in regard to any one State or in regard to the United States as a whole. As a step toward the accomplishment of this purpose, the present study has been conceived and prepared, and it is presented with the hope that it may be the starting point of other similar investigations into a rich field of educational polity. One practical value of such investigations lies in the fact that legislators are coming more and more to rely upon the advice of educators in framing school laws, frequently to the point of the adoption of new and complete codes. It is well, therefore, that both educators and legislators should realize the effect of a piece of proposed or existent legislation in its bearing upon control.

So far as the selection and arrangement of material are concerned, the reader should keep in mind that although the study contains a great amount of detail, it does not purport to be a compendium of school law. Instead, the underlying purpose is to present a systematic arrangement of school law in its reference to the question of educational control. From this point of view, portions of laws having no relation to the question of control have been eliminated, since to include them would be to obscure the fundamental issue.1

In its original form this study of control in elementary education was prepared as a thesis presented to the faculty of the graduate school of the University of Pennsylvania in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy. Since its acceptance for that purpose it has been modified so as to include. intervening legislation.

1 In view of the fact that State aid for agriculture, industrial education, home economics, and consolidation of schools has received extended treatment in recent publications of the Bureau of Education (see Bulletin, 1914, Nos. 30, 37; Report of the Commissioner, 1913, Vol. I, Ch. XI; 1914, Vol. I, Ch. XI), the detailed analysis of this topic prepared by the author for inclusion in this study is printed only in abstract form (pp. 20-31).

The sources used in the preparation of the study were the most recent school laws of the various States as issued by the State departments of education, supplemented by the session laws of the legislatures in session since the date of publication of the school laws.

For stimulus in the preparation of this study and for the general spirit pervading it, I am indebted to able instructors and fellow students at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Acknowledgment is also due to the State superintendents throughout the country for their ready replies, without which it would have been impossible for me to interpret many points of law. Acknowledgment is also due Mr. James C. Boykin and other members of the Editorial Division of the Bureau of Education for helpful criticism. My chief debt of gratitude, however, is to my wife, Lillian Ione MacDowell, who with unfailing zeal has aided most materially in the completion of what has proved to be an arduous undertaking.


January 1, 1915.




While the final responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of American schools rests with each individual State, there is nevertheless such a uniformity in ideals and in legislation that to public education, more than to any other social institution, may the term "national" be applied. Yet, in our National Constitution there are no provisions concerning public education. Each State is free to adopt, therefore, any one of several policies in the administration of public schools. First, it might shun any and all responsibility in the education of the child, if society could afford to adopt such a policy. Second, acting through central authority, the State might raise all moneys and assume entire control of education. Third, it might govern through central authority, but compel local units to provide the entire cost by local taxation. Fourth, it might take a more superior position, and through its central authority encourage and cooperate with the localities, both financially and administratively, giving great freedom to local initiative, but reserving final power to itself, to be exercised when necessary. This lastnamed policy furnishes a high ethical basis for educational control; it implies a delicate balance of central and local processes, a friendly attitude of the State, supreme in its unity, toward the weaker unit, the locality; it tends to perpetuate what has been regarded as America's birthright-the freedom of local government to operate within the constitutional limits established by the State.

Assuming the last to represent actual conditions, this study endeavors primarily to determine, by an analysis of State school legislation,' the present status and trend of control of elementary education.2

From the standpoint of control, legislation pertaining to education may be divided broadly into two divisions or aspects. In the first place, a State may establish regulations, either mandatory or restric

1 The study deals only with legislation applying generally throughout a State and does not include special legislation, that is, acts of a local nature.

2 "Elementary education," as used in the study, denotes what is covered by general usage; institutions established for specific purposes, such as the care and education of deaf, dumb, and blind children, are generally under the management of a special board of trustees, and are, therefore, not included.

tive, relating to certain broad aspects of educational administration, which localities must accept; here the degree of State control will be indicated by the nature of the regulations adopted. In the second place, a State may organize its administrative machinery of educational procedure either by placing certain powers in the hands of central agents or by placing such powers in the hands of local agents; here, obviously, control will be centralized or localized according to the nature and number of powers delegated to central agents on the one hand or to local agents on the other.

By an analysis of these two phases of control it has been possible to obtain criteria sufficiently definite for adoption as standards of measurement. In selecting such standards the effort has been to choose, first, only those functions that are generally regarded as fundamental in the administration of public elementary education, and, second, a variety sufficient to give a comprehensive view of each of the various State school systems. These standards then have been analyzed into substandards in order to provide for the proper classification and organization of necessary detail. It is recognized that there may be reasonable difference of opinion as to the importance of some of the standards or substandards adopted, or as to their grouping; it is also conceded that additional standards might have been included. Nevertheless, it is believed that the range of standards is sufficiently accurate and broad to compensate for any minor errors of judgment that may have been made in these respects. Suffice it to say that a careful study of school legislation has disclosed these standards as typical and as apparently well calculated to indicate the present trend of control, whether central or local.1


The policies adopted by the various States in regard to the administration of financial matters demand first attention in a study of educational control. In order to see the subject of public-school finance in its relation to control at various angles, however, it is necessary to analyze it from the viewpoint of different standards, each developing a different phase of the subject. This will be done in the following pages, each section dealing with a separate standard.

1 In order to insure clearness it is necessary to define a few terms that are in frequent use throughout this study-"local unit" or "locality," "central authority," "local authority," "centralization" and "localization." A "local unit" or "locality" consists of any politico-geographical subdivision of a State; that is, a county, a township, or a school district. "Central authority" carries out constitutional provisions and legislative enactments for a State at large, while "local authority" carries them out for a local unit. Finally, legislation that tends to impose certain mandates or restrictions upon local authority or that places certain powers and duties in the hands of central authority is to be considered as evidence of "centralization;" while the absence of State legislation tending to impose such mandates and restrictions on local authority, or the presence of legislation placing such powers and duties in the hands of local authority, is to be considered as evidence of "localization."

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