Patrick Moore’s article “The Constitutional Right to Education in the Commonwealth” appeared in the February 2020 edition of the Massachusetts Law Review published by the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Twenty-six years ago, in McDuffy v. Secretary of Executive Office of Education, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that the Education Clause of the Massachusetts Constitution requires the state to provide an adequate educational opportunity to public school children in the commonwealth.
In McDuffy and in the handful of Education Clause cases that have followed, the SJC has emphasized that the state Constitution imposes upon the commonwealth an affirmative duty to “devise a plan and devote sources of funds sufficient” to allow municipalities to provide to their children an adequate public education. Such affirmative constitutional responsibilities – that require the commonwealth to take action, rather than refrain from it – are rare. Among them, the right to an adequate education is unique, both in terms of its foundational importance for our system of government and the complex issues involved in its enforcement.
Because Education Clause litigation has been limited in Massachusetts, and because claims based on the affirmative right to an adequate education raise separation of powers and institutional concerns for the judiciary, numerous questions that would be elementary in any other area of law remain open. The three most prominent are (i) what constitutes an adequate educational opportunity; (ii) who may enforce the right; and (iii) under what circumstances will an Education Clause claim warrant judicial relief.
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