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Importance of Education. One of the most important duties of the State is that of the instruction of its youth, not only because education produces culture and a greater capacity for enjoyment, but because by increasing general intelligence it makes people more capable of selfgovernment. In view of such considerations the State has assumed the responsibility of providing schools and means of instruction and of defraying the expenses of such schools by taxation upon the people and property within the State.
Schools under the Dutch.-The Dutch settlers recognized the importance of popular education. One of the requirements imposed upon the Patroons was that of supplying schoolmasters for their tenants, and among the passengers who accompanied the first Director General upon his voyage to America was a teacher, Adam Roelandsen. Later, a common school was established at New Amsterdam, and in 1659 a Latin school was started whose reputation drew pupils from the then distant colonies of Virginia and the Carolinas.
Schools under the English.-Under English domination interest in popular education decreased. A few families employed private tutors, and others sent their children to New England schools; but the mass of the people were allowed to grow up in ignorance and superstition. There were, however, one or two efforts to supply instruction, such as the establishment of a grammar
school in 1702 and a free school in 1732, in which instruction was given in Latin, Greek and mathematics. Another effort on the part of the English Government was the organization of King's College (now Columbia University) in 1754 for the purpose of teaching, among other things, the duty of obedience to England, which at that time was being questioned at Yale and Princeton.
Schools under the New State.-At the time of the establishment of the State Government in 1777, there was no system of public schools in the State; but one college, King's; and only a few select schools. The first step toward a systematic control of education was taken by the Legislature in establishing in 1784 The Regents of the University of the State of New York, a body to which was given control of Columbia College, with the power to incorporate other colleges and academies, but with no authority over the so-called "common schools." To this Board additional powers were given from time to time by the Legislature, and by the present Constitution it is provided that:
The corporation created in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four, under the name of The Regents of the University of the State of New York, is hereby continued under the name of The University of the State of New York. It shall be governed and its corporate powers, which may be increased, modified or diminished by the Legislature, shall be exercised by not less than nine regents. (Art. IX., Sec. 2.)
The Regents. The University of the State of New York is a federation of universities, colleges, schools for professional and technical instruction, academies, high schools, academic departments of schools, libraries and other educational institutions incorporated by the Regents.
Object. The object of the University is:
To encourage and promote higher education, to visit and inspect its several institutions and departments, to distribute to or expend or administer for them such property and funds as the State may appropriate therefor or as the University may own or hold in trust or otherwise, and to perform such other duties as may be intrusted to it.
Power of Regents. - Under the powers granted to it the University of the State of New York, through its Board of Regents, exercised until 1904 very important powers. It granted charters to colleges and other educational institutions; inspected their work and required reports; established examinations and conferred diplomas and degrees to successful candidates, and prescribed rules for entrance into many of the learned professions. In the execution of this work it employed a number of inspectors who visited the various institutions under its charge, and a large corps of examiners who reviewed papers of candidates submitted at the examinations held at stated times throughout the State.
Government of Regents. The University is governed by a Board of Regents consisting of eleven members, elected by the legislature. This Board exercises the former powers of the University in connection with colleges, technical and professional schools, but all powers in relation to the supervision of elementary and secondary schools are exercised by the Commissioner of Education, who is the executive officer of the Board.
The Common Schools. The University of the State of New York, though possessing such extensive powers, had no authority over the common schools of the State, nor any charge over the instructing or licensing of teachers.
History of Common Schools. The
system dates from 1795, in which year the Legislature voted an appropriation of fifty thousand dollars a year for five years to be distributed among the counties, according to population, on the condition that each county should raise by tax for school purposes a sum equal to the amount appropriated to it. In 1800 the Legislature made provision for raising the sum of one hundred thousand dollars annually by a lottery, to be used for school purposes. In 1805, upon the recommendation of Governor Lewis, five hundred thousand acres of the public lands of the State were sold, and the proceeds were set aside as a permanent fund, the interest of which was to be distributed among the schools of the State. There were yet, however, no free schools. People sending children to school were obliged to pay for their instruction ratably. Nor was there any adequate supervision or uniformity of instruction or provision as to qualifications of teachers. The lack of these essentials led to the appointment, in 1813, of Gideon Hawley as the first Superintendent of Schools. In 1821 the schools were put under the charge of the Secretary of State. In 1835 provision was made for the instruction of teachers in order properly to equip them for their work, and this led to the establishment of the Albany Normal School in 1844.
Ten years later, in 1854, the office of State Superintendent was created, and in 1867 the schools of the State were made free. To perpetuate this act the first section of Article IX. of the Constitution directs that:
The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.