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Michigan Legal Milestones
40. The Kalamazoo Case: Establishing High School for All

The Kalamazoo Case

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The Kalamazoo Case: Establishing High School for All

In 1858, the citizens of Kalamazoo extended free public education beyond the elementary level when they used tax money to construct Kalamazoo Union High School and to fund both elementary and secondary studies.

In 1873, several prominent Kalamazoo citizens filed a lawsuit raising a legal and constitutional challenge to the high school, arguing that tax dollars could only be used to fund primary schools.

On February 9, 1874, Circuit Court Judge Charles R. Brown ruled against the challenge, stating, “The provision that the legislature shall establish a system of primary schools cannot be reasonably construed as forbidding the establishment of other schools.”

After an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Thomas M. Cooley penned a unanimous opinion on July 21, 1874, upholding Judge Brown’s ruling, concluding that neither the legislature nor the state constitution restricted the scope of public education.

By 1890, there were 278 high schools in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Case changed the landscape of public education in Michigan and served as a landmark for educational reform across the United States.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the
Kalamazoo County Bar Association June 21, 2016