A message from Superintendent Jeff Stephens:
On March 4, 1895, exactly 125 years ago next month, a Constitutional Convention was assembled in Salt Lake City in preparation for the Utah Territory to officially become a state. The convention was composed of 107 delegates and lasted 66 days. The work of these delegates over the next two months was historic. The result was uniquely Utahn. One distinctive element of our Utah Constitution was a dedicated revenue stream to fund schools: "All revenue from a tax on income shall be used to support the systems of public and higher education" (See Utah Constitution Section XIII; Section 5). The framers of our state constitution recognized the great benefits of public and higher education—even guaranteeing an ongoing revenue source to perpetually fund schools.
During the 2020 Legislative session, there is discussion about that constitutional guarantee for public and higher education. This has led me to review other early state documents. It's impressive to see the wisdom and forethought of those who helped lay the foundation for a society that we enjoy today. John Adams, for example, drafted the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts. In that document, Adams highlighted the value of education by directing that public schools should be supported in every town and that a university should be established at Cambridge. Adams elaborated by saying, "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 would depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education." John Adams knew the tremendous importance of both public and higher education!
A lesser known, but equally significant document was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, opening the area which today represents Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. The person most responsible for not only drafting, but ensuring the successful passage of the Northwest Ordinance was Manasseh Cutler. In addition to a list of protected rights, the Northwest Ordinance added two critical elements—the prohibition of slavery and a guarantee for public education. When one considers that the Northwest Ordinance was written in 1787, that is quite extraordinary! Regarding public education, the Northwest Ordinance stated, "Knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Manasseh Cutler, like John Adams before him, placed a high value on education; however, he also recognized that education also played an essential role in our happiness.
I hope as lawmakers contemplate constitutional language that has served Utah well for 125 years, they will approach the matter with equal wisdom, vision and foresight.