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April 25, 2013

Public schools created

From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, April 24, 1813

Compiled, with comments

by HUGH C. MacDOUGALL

District Schools Established

New School Act, Just Printed, and for sale by H. & E. PHINNEY, Jun. Cooperstown.

COMMENT: The Common School Act of 1812 marked the start of New York’s public school system. Much of the credit for this was due to the radical Otsego County politician Jedediah Peck (1747-1821). To quote the NY Education Department: 

“In 1812 a landmark law established a statewide system of common school districts and authorized distribution of interest from the Common School Fund. Town and city officials were directed to lay out the districts; the voters in each district elected trustees to operate the school. State aid was distributed to those districts holding school at least three months a year, according to population aged 5-15. Revenue from the town/county property tax was used to match the state school aid.

“While the 1812 act authorized local authorities to establish common school districts, an 1814 amendment required them to do so. After 1814, if the cost of instruction exceeded the total of state aid plus local tax, as it generally did, the difference was made up by charging tuition, or ‘rates,’ itemized on ‘rate bills.’ By mid-century New York had over ten thousand common school districts. The typical district had a one- or two-room schoolhouse where children learned reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and geography.

“The 1812 common school act shaped the future of public education in New York by establishing that 1) common schools are a state function under state control; 2) funding of public schools is a joint state-local responsibility; 3) the school district-not the county or the town-is the primary administrative unit for public education.”

Cooperstown’s school was in “frog hollow” on West (now Pioneer) Street, later a second school was established on what is now Pine Boulevard. They were replaced by a Union School in 1869, headed by William H. Ruggles (ca. 1821-1874).

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