McDuffy v. Secretary of Executive Office of Educ.

Decision Date15 June 1993
Citation415 Mass. 545,615 N.E.2d 516
Parties, 83 Ed. Law Rep. 657 Jami McDUFFY & others 1 v. SECRETARY OF the EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF EDUCATION & Others 2 (and a companion case). 3
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Michael D. Weisman (Sara Miron Bloom, Mark A. Simonoff, Alan J. Rom, Richard W. Murphy & Michelle A. Allaire with him), for plaintiffs.

Douglas H. Wilkins, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Mary C. Connaughton, Asst. Atty. Gen., & Robert H. Blumenthal, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., with him), for defendants.

Paul A. Minorini & Steven J. Routh, of the District of Columbia, Helen Hershkoff, of New York, & John Reinstein, amici curiae for Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts & others.

Henry C. Dinger & Barbara Healy Smith, amici curiae for Massachusetts Business Alliance for Educ. & others.

Scott P. Lewis & Wendy J. Bookstein, amici curiae for Jonathan Kozol.

Stephen J. Finnegan & Michael J. Long, amici curiae for Massachusetts Ass'n of School Committees, Inc., & another.

David Lee Turner, Town Counsel, amici curiae for town of Brookline.

Robert Pressman, amici curiae for Center for Law & Educ. & another.

Naomi R. Stonberg & Linda Thomas Lowe, amici curiae for School Committee of Gloucester & another.

Jeffrey W. Jacobsen, amicus curiae for Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO.

Michael B. Rosen, amicus curiae for Trustees of Boston University.

Roger L. Rice, amicus curiae for Padres Unidos en Educacin y el Desarrollo de Otros & others.

Charlotte Ryan, pro se.

Dr. Peter L. Frangipane, amicus curiae for Lynn Citizens Coalition for Public Educ.


LIACOS, Chief Justice.

The Constitution of this Commonwealth, adopted by the people, provides:

"Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of this country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humour, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people."

Part II, C. 5, § 2, of the Massachusetts Constitution.

In this case, sixteen students of the Commonwealth's public schools in sixteen different towns and cities of the Commonwealth sued the Board of Education, the Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, and the Treasurer and Receiver General, seeking a declaration of rights under G.L. c. 231A (1990 ed.) that the Commonwealth has failed to fulfil its duty to provide them an education as mandated by the Constitution. The plaintiffs claim that the State's school-financing system effectively denies them the opportunity to receive an adequate education in the public schools in their communities. This denial of the opportunity for an adequate education, the plaintiffs claim, violates both Part II, C. 5, § 2, and arts. 1 and 10 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution.


Initially, suit was commenced in May, 1978, under the caption Webby vs. Dukakis, by the filing of a complaint and a motion for class certification in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature enacted "School Funds and State Aid for Public Schools," St.1978, c. 367 § 70C (codified at G.L. c. 70). Following that legislative enactment, the case was inactive for five years, until 1983, when the parties initiated discovery. In July, 1985, a single justice of this court referred the case to a master with orders to hear the evidence and to make findings of fact and conclusions of law. However, that same month the Legislature enacted "An Act improving the public schools of the Commonwealth," see St.1985, c. 188 § 12 (codified at G.L. c. 70A), and proceedings in the case were again suspended. Five years later, in 1990, the plaintiffs filed a "restated complaint" (presently before us) and a renewed motion for class certification. In October, 1991, the parties filed a stipulation of agreed facts, and, in November, 1992, they filed a supplemental stipulation of agreed facts along with a joint appendix to the stipulations consisting of six volumes of documents.

In 1989, a separate suit, captioned Levy vs. Dukakais, was filed in the Superior Court Department in Worcester County. The first seven counts of the complaint in the Levy case consist of claims by nine young people who live in and attend public schools in Worcester, Carver, Revere, and Rockland, against various State education officials and institutions challenging the constitutionality of the State's school-financing system. 4 In May, 1990, the single justice in the present case, McDuffy vs. Robertson, issued an order transferring the first seven counts of the Levy complaint from the Worcester Superior Court to the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County "for disposition." G.L. c. 211, § 4A (1990 ed.).

In December, 1992, a single justice reserved and reported both the McDuffy case and the Levy case without decision to the full court on the stipulated record. The parties filed briefs in this court and the court heard oral argument. 5 , 6


The plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the entire school-financing scheme in the Commonwealth. 7 The plaintiffs fail, however, to specify either in their complaint or their brief any particular financing statute which they seek to have us declare unconstitutional. As will be briefly shown in this opinion, the school-financing scheme provides a complex, and frequently changing, mixture of State and local funding, together with a minor amount of Federal aid. It appears the plaintiff seek to have us declare the entire financing scheme unconstitutional. We shall decline the invitation to engage in such a blunderbuss approach. Instead, we shall restrict ourselves to a determination whether the constitutional language of Part II, C. 5, § 2, is merely hortatory, or aspirational, or imposes instead a constitutional duty on the Commonwealth to ensure the education of its children in the public schools.

We conclude that a duty exists. Second, we shall attempt to describe the nature of that duty and where it lies. Third, we shall consider whether on this record such a duty is shown to be violated. We take this approach because we are confident that the executive and legislative branches of government will respond appropriately to meet their constitutional responsibilities. 8

The stipulated record contains 546 stipulations and six volumes of documentary material. The plaintiffs claim that this record supports their factual assertions, and that these facts, taken together, are sufficient to prove their legal claim that the school-financing scheme in Massachusetts violates Part II, c. 5, § 2, and arts. 1 and 10. The defendant education officials dispute both contentions: They deny that the stipulated record supports the plaintiffs' factual claims, and they argue that, even if it did, these facts would be insufficient to prove the plaintiffs' legal claims. The defendants also dispute the existence of the plaintiffs' legal claims under the Massachusetts Constitution. We outline briefly the plaintiffs' claims.

1. The plaintiffs' factual claims. The plaintiffs' key factual assertions concern: (1) the inadequacy of the education offered at the public schools they attend; (2) the insufficiency of funds for their schools; and (3) the State's school-funding system.

a. Adequacy. The plaintiffs assert that the educational opportunities offered to them in the towns and cities in which they live and attend public school are "inadequate." They assert further that "the education provided to the Plaintiffs is inadequate by any reasonable standard of adequacy." To support this inadequacy claim, the plaintiffs cite reports and affidavits of education professionals on the question of adequacy, and, in addition, using stipulations of record, they describe conditions in the plaintiffs' schools, and then compare them with conditions in three "comparison" communities (Brookline, Concord, and Wellesley). Among the reports which the plaintiffs cite to support their claim of inadequacy is a 1991 report of the Board of Education (one of the defendants). This report states that "schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are in a state of emergency due to grossly inadequate financial support," and that the education offered in the public schools in some cities and towns of the Commonwealth is not "adequate" or "acceptable." 9 The plaintiffs also cite the affidavits of three education professionals: Harold Raynolds, former Commissioner of Education; Peter Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; and Rosanne K. Bacon, former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. 10 Each of these education professionals expresses the opinion that the education offered in the poorer towns and cities of the Commonwealth is inadequate. 11 Lastly, the plaintiffs cite a 1991 report of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a group of business persons concerned with education reform in the Commonwealth, which concludes that the "public education system is failing...

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