Education Reform


1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003 | 2004-2005

Filed in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Webby v. Dukakis charged that students in property-poor towns were being denied the opportunity to receive an adequate education as guaranteed by the Massachusetts Constitution. The plaintiffs represented students from some of Massachusetts' poorest school districts.

In an effort to balance school funding across districts, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted "School Funds and State Aid to Public Schools." The plaintiffs in Webby v. Dukakis responded to the legislation by temporarily suspending their action.

Convinced that state remedies had not sufficiently improved schools in poor districts, the plaintiffs of Webby v. Dukakis again moved forward with their suit. Both sides began to assemble their evidence.

Webby v. Dukakis began to move through the court system, as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered preliminary hearings to begin. That same month, the Massachusetts Legislature passed "An Act improving the public schools of the Commonwealth." The plaintiffs in Webby v. Dukakis withdrew their suit.

Attorneys working on behalf of students who attended public schools in Worcester, Carver, Revere, and Rockland filed Levy v. Dukakis. Like the Webby suit, Levy challenged the constitutionality of the state's school-financing system.

Dissatisfied with the lack of progress made to equalize support of education, the plaintiffs in Webby v. Dukakis filed a "restated complaint" in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The case was effectively combined with Levy v. Dukakis, and heard in court as McDuffy v. Robertson. The official plaintiff in this case, Jami McDuffy, was a student in Brockton Public Schools.

Justice Ruth Abrams of the Supreme Judicial Court ordered McDuffy v. Robertson be heard by the full Supreme Judicial Court in February, 1993. The Massachusetts Legislature was already working on broad-based educational reform. "The fastest and least adversarial way to achieve meaningful reform," said Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, "is for the governor and Legislature to agree on a legislative package."

In McDuffy v. Robertson, the SJC ruled that the Massachusetts school funding system was unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to craft a remedy. In its ruling, the SJC outlined seven broad learning goals that a person would need to attain to be educated. Robert Murphy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, commented that student assessment "may prove to be unwieldy. That is historically where it gets complicated."

Passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor William Weld, the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 affected virtually every aspect of K-12 public education, from teacher training and certification to curriculum frameworks and students assessment. Billions of dollars were designated for state education funding; by the year 2000, each student would be funded at a minimum of $5,500 per year.

1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003 | 2004-2005