The words "duty" and "cherish" found in Mass. Const. part II, c. 5. § 2 are not merely aspirational or hortatory, but obligatory. The Commonwealth has a duty to provide an education for all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town of the Commonwealth at the public school level, and this duty is designed not only to serve the interests of the children, but, more fundamentally, to prepare them to participate as free citizens of a free state to meet the needs and interests of a republican government.
Students filed actions against the commonwealth alleging that the commonwealth failed to fulfill its duty to provide them with an education as mandated by Mass. Const. part II, c. 5, § 2. After reviewing the history of the constitutional provision, the court declared that Part II, c. 5, § 2 imposed a mandatory, enforceable duty on the magistrates and legislatures of the commonwealth to provide education in the public schools for the children there enrolled, whether they be rich or poor and without regard to the fiscal capacity of the community or district in which such children lived.
Is the commonwealth mandated by the Constitution to provide students with education?
The Court held that while local governments could be required, in part, to support public schools, it was the responsibility of the commonwealth to take such steps as was necessary to effectively devise a plan and sources of funds sufficient to meet the constitutional mandate. In this case, however, the Court found that the commonwealth was not currently fulfilling its constitutional duty. Thus, the court set forth broad guidelines of education and left it to the commonwealth to take the necessary actions to remedy the failures in the current educational system and to fulfill its duty to educate.