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John Rogers Statue in Sylvester Park, Olympia

House Bill 67, sponsored by Rep. John Rogers
Chapter LXVIII, Session Laws of 1895

Memorial Addresses: Governor John Rankin Rogers

Tacoma Morning Union, February 10, 1898

View related Turning Points: School Equalization Measure: Showalter Bill

"Monument Unveiled", Morning Olympian, January 20, 1905

Barefoot Schoolboy Act

Beginning of School Equalization


In the Organic Act which created the Territory of Washington in 1853, certain sections of each township were set aside for the support of public schools and other needs. In the pioneer days, not every district was able to support a school despite this provision due to small population or other difficulties. The school year was short, teachers were of various abilities and backgrounds, and children were often needed to help sustain family enterprises. Nonetheless, a tradition of support for education was established.

Washington became a state in 1889. The Preamble to Article IX of the State Constitution declares, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.” Section 2 goes on to say, “The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

Section 3 details the exact sources of these funds. As the state developed, the history of funding for education was a continuous story of escalating enrollment constantly outstripping the mechanisms invented to support schools and the search for new sources of funding. Local property taxes, supplemented by monies raised by the state were stretched by the rapidly increasing population, the growing need for more years of schooling as society became more urban and complex, and the need for teachers with more training and experience. The old formulas were inadequate.

The Barefoot Schoolboy Act:

Various solutions were proffered, but the first major shift in responsibility from local sources to state resources was undertaken by the Populist Representative John Rogers from Puyallup.

“Rogers was a strong, well-liked Governor whose administration increased the strength of Populist principles here. In 1895 as a member of the State House of Representatives, he had sponsored the Barefoot Schoolboy Law, as it came to be called, which provided that a certain minimum allowance for the education of each child in the state should be made available by the Legislature. In effect, this was the beginning of the principle of equalization in education between counties, the procedure by which wealthier counties contribute more to state educational funds than poorer counties, the difference being used to increase the amount available in the latter. This concept is accepted now in many areas of government, but at that time it was startling to many people because up until then a county that could afford money for schools and most other services provided them; a county that could not afford them did without.” (Avery, p. 201)

The measure provided six dollars for every child counted in the census, “whether or not they attended school. As the number of students who actually enrolled in school increased, the plan became less adequate. This led to several amendments to the original proposal. In 1899, the figure was increased to eight dollars per census child and in 1901 it was increased to ten dollars.” (Hawkins, p56) Even though not the last word on school funding, the Act introduced the concept of an expanded responsibility for the state to provide educational funding. This trend continued through the following decades and increased the need for state revenues, having an impact on discussions regarding the state tax structure. The need to support schools and the growing acceptance of the role of the state became intrinsically connected to the question of taxes.

However, districts still relied heavily on local property taxes for the bulk of school monies and the inequalities between rich and poor districts persisted which needed to be addressed in the coming years.


Avery, Mary W. History and Government of the State of Washington. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1961

Hawkins, Joyce Williams. N.D. Showalter: Washington State’s Noble Leader. Seattle University, (Thesis, Ed. D.), 1987