In 1723, the Upper House of Assembly established that it was in the Colony's best interest to create "Free Schools" throughout the counties (September 26, 1723).

The first school in the area now called Howard County was opened in 1777 by the Ellicott family, founders of Ellicott City. Created to instruct the family's children, the school later extended to include young people from their community. It was an exceptional school. It taught boys and girls as equals. From across the State, the Ellicott family brought the best teachers to their school and paid them out of their own pocket. Following Quaker principles, children were taught practical, useful information. In place of the classical curriculum of “free schools”, the school offered mathematics and the sciences.

As early as 1816, 1818, and 1819, money was distributed through county commissioners for the purpose of funding free schools in each county (Chapter 256, Acts of 1816; Chapter 116, Acts of 1818; Chapter 182, Acts of 1825). It was not until 1825, however, that State law created a general primary school system to make public instruction available (Chapter 162, Acts of 1825).

The Maryland Constitution of 1864 centralized supervision of county school systems under the State Board of Education. Legislation implementing these constitutional provisions was enacted in 1865 (Chapter 160, Acts of 1865). Nonetheless, the period of State control did not last, for the Maryland Constitution of 1867 reversed course and returned control of public education to local government (Chapter 123, Acts of 1867). The county public schools inaugurated at that time were segregated. They, in other words, constituted a dual system of education that continued in Howard County for nearly a century until segregation ended in September 1965.


Functions of the Howard County Board of Education began with the Commissioners of Primary Schools, the Board of School Commissioners, and the Board of County School Commissioners.

Commissioners of Primary Schools. In 1825, Levy Court judges were authorized to appoint commissioners of primary schools. Nine commissioners were to inspect the primary schools, and designate school districts in each county, including Anne Arundel from which Howard later formed (Chapter 162, Acts of 1825). By 1827, the State required that commissioners of primary schools report to the State Board of Education on tuition, State monies received, qualifications and number of teachers, and number of “free students” (Resolution 33, Acts of 1827).

Within Anne Arundel County, Howard District was created in 1838 (Chapter 22, Acts of 1838; Chapter 50, Acts of 1838). The District, in 1839, was authorized to continue the school system already set in place by Anne Arundel County. Howard District was permitted to establish new school districts in 1840; however, school district boundaries could not be changed without General Assembly approval (Chapter 66, Acts of 1840). Commissioners were authorized to tax Howard District property for the support of County schools in 1843 (Chapter 8, Acts of 1843). At this time, Howard District created a separate district school fund from that of Anne Arundel County (Chapter 8, Acts of 1843). The Maryland Constitution of 1851 reformed Howard District as Howard County (Const. 1851, Art. VIII, sec. I).

Board of School Commissioners. Duties of the Commissioners of Primary Schools passed to the Board of County Commissioners by 1853 (Chapter 62, Acts of 1853). The new Board was authorized to levy property taxes for the support of schools in 1853, 1854, and 1856 (Chapter 62, Acts of 1853; Chapter 93, Acts of 1854; Chapter 90, Acts of 1856). The Board of School Commissioners of Howard County was authorized to appoint primary school inspectors.

The State Board of Education in 1865 began to appoint members of the Howard County Board of School Commissioners (Chapter 160, Acts of 1865). The State Superintendent of Public Instruction determined how many commissioners would serve in the County (Chapter 407, Acts of 1868). The County Board, whose members served four years, was to appoint a county examiner to certify and inspect teachers.

Board of County School Commissioners. In 1870, membership on the Board of County School Commissioners for Howard County was reduced and the length of term shortened (Chapter 311, Acts of 1870). Appointed by the Circuit Court, three members were to serve two-year terms. The Board was authorized to supervise County schools, pay teacher salaries, pay for and distribute textbooks, and choose the location of schoolhouses. When needed, the Commissioners levied property taxes and were empowered to change school districts boundaries. Annually, they were required to report to the State School Commissioners on financial matters and the status of County schools.

By the turn of the century, while the Board of County School Commissioners gained more control over its own schools, the State continued to provide financial support. In 1892, the Governor began to appoint the Board members (Chapter 341, Acts of 1892). For each student, by 1896, textbooks were to be selected and supplied by each County, though paid for by State funding (Chapter 135, Acts of 1896). In 1900, political affiliation had to be considered when boards of county school commissioners were chosen (Chapter 29, Acts of 1900). At least one member was to come from the minority party of the Governor.

Board of Education. In 1916, boards of county school commissioners reformed as boards of education (Chapter 506, Acts of 1916). The new boards appointed and determined the qualifications of all board employees, including principals, teachers and staff (Chapter 494, Acts of 1918). By 1920, each board of education was required to submit an annual budget to the State Board of Education (Chapter 442, Acts of 1920).

Today, the Howard County Board of Education oversees educational matters that affect Howard County (Code Education Article, secs. 4-101 through 4-126)

The Board consists of eight members. Seven are elected by the voters to four-year terms (Code Election Law Article, secs. 8-801 through 8-806). A nonvoting student member, chosen by County students, serves a one-year term (Code Education Article, secs. 3-701 through 3-704).


In 1825, three trustees, one clerk, and one collector were to be elected by the voters for each school district created by boards of county school commissioners (Chapter 162, Acts of 1825). These five people oversaw the building and furnishing of schoolhouses. They provided the “necessary fuel, books, stationary and appendages,” and employed all teachers. The clerk was to keep records. The collector gathered taxes relating to the promotion of primary schools from the inhabitants of their district.

District Trustees. In 1827, the State required that district trustees report to county school commissioners on tuition, monies received from the State, qualifications and number of teachers, and how many “free students” attended (Resolution 33, Acts of 1827). The number of District trustees, in each school district, increased from three to seven and their term of service grew from one to three years in 1846 (Chapter 359, Acts of 1846).

Board of District School Commissioners. Duties of the district trustees to care for the schools were assumed by district commissioners in 1865 (Chapter 160, Acts of 1865). District commissioners reformed as boards of district school commissioners in 1870 (Chapter 311, Acts of 1870). They were to ensure that schools were open and students attended for ten months each year. They could expel students and select additional courses of study. Each district board was made up of three people appointed by the board of county school commissioners.

Board of District School Trustees. In 1872, district commissioners were renamed boards of district school trustees. (Chapter 377, Acts of 1872). By 1904, the boards of district school trustees lost their authority to hire teachers (Chapter 584, Acts of 1904). While the boards of county school commissioners could employ teachers, district trustees were authorized to appoint a “principal teacher” (with approval of the County School Commissioners) as an additional nonvoting member of the Board of County School Commissioners. By 1918, district school trustees could refuse to accept a teacher in their school district (Chapter 381, Acts of 1918). They also were empowered to close schools if necessary.


Responsibilities of the Superintendent of Schools originated first with School Inspectors, then County Examiners, and County Superintendents of Public Education.

School Inspectors. Duties of county superintendents of schools began in 1825 (Chapter 162, Acts of 1825). That year, in all counties, levy court judges were authorized to name up to eighteen “discreet persons” to inspect the primary schools (Chapter 162, Acts of 1825). By 1835, the number of inspectors decreased from eighteen to three (Chapter 278, Acts of 1835).

In 1865, the task of inspectors to monitor school conditions was assumed by presidents of boards of school commissioners who also were to certify and inspect teachers (Chapter 160, Acts of 1865).

County Examiners. By 1868, the monitoring, certifying, and inspecting functions of presidents of boards of school commissioners was reassigned to county examiners (Chapter 407, Acts of 1868). Examiners interviewed teacher candidates and certified their qualifications (Chapter 311, Acts of 1870). Once hired, teachers still had to pass quarterly tests administered by examiners who visited schools to observe and advise on the instruction and discipline of students. Each examiner also served as secretary and treasurer of the boards of county school commissioners.

County Superintendent of Public Education. County superintendents of public education assumed duties of county examiners in 1904 (Chapter 584, Acts of 1904). Appointed by boards of county school commissioners, superintendents also could recommend the hiring of principals and teachers.

Superintendent of Schools. In 1916, county superintendents of public instruction were renamed superintendents of schools (Chapter 506, Acts of 1916). By 1918, the Superintendent could recommend the hiring of staff (Chapter 494, Acts of 1918). A Superintendent’s staff included assistant superintendents, medical inspectors, school nurses, a primary supervisor, an attendance officer, and a statistical and stenographic clerk. In 1920, the Superintendent of Schools was given the power to settle county disputes within a county regarding education, and to interpret school laws (Chapter 249, Acts of 1920).

Today, the Superintendent of Schools administers the Howard County Public School System, and serves as executive officer, secretary, and treasurer of the Board of Education. The Superintendent is appointed by the County Board of Education with the approval of the State Superintendent of Schools (Code Education Article, secs. 4-102; 4-201 through 4-206).


The Howard County Public School System is governed by the County Board of Education (Code Education Article, secs. 4-101 through 4-126). In addition, through the review and approval of the annual operating and capital budgets, Howard County government exercises authority over the County Public Schools. Moreover, through the establishment and monitoring of various financial and academic policies and regulations, the State Department of Education also has considerable oversight of county public schools. Indeed, under Maryland law, the State Department of Education works with county public schools to comply with requirements and mandates of federal law.

In Howard County, the Public School System has seventy-six schools: 12 high schools, 20 middle schools, and 41 elementary schools, and 3 special schools. In Fiscal Year 2015, some 53,685 students were enrolled in the County's public schools.


Howard Community College, was founded in 1966 by the Board of Education, and authorized by the Board of County Commissioners. Based in Columbia, the College opened in 1970.


The Howard County Public Library organized in 1940 and began in a portable school building in Ellicot City. In 1948, the County's first bookmobile began to serve residents around the County. In 1960, the Library moved to rented quarters at Route 144 and St. John's Lane, and in 1962 opened its central building, the Frederick Road Library (now Charles E. Miller Branch Library and Historical Center) on Frederick Road, Ellicott City. Subsequently, six branch libraries opened: Wilde Lake (1968); Long Reach (1976); Savage (1991); Elkridge (1993); East Columbia (1994); and Glenwood (2000).

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