History of Public Education in Texas
From Texas Political Almanac
Education in Spanish Texas
Mirabeau Lamar and Constitutional Origins
Article VII, Section 1: A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of this State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.
Gilmer Aiken Laws
After the Legislature deadlocked in 1947 over a minimum-salary law for Texas public school teachers, the House and Senate named a committee to study how to improve efficiency and funding for the public schools. The committee’s recommendations, largely drawn up by state Senator A.M. Aikin of Paris and state Rep. Claud Gilmer of Rocksprings came before the 51st Legislature in 1949.
The Gilmer-Aikin Committee presented a report that called for wide-ranging educational reform, including consolidation of the state's 4,500 school districts into approximately 3,000 districts to avoid duplicating services, state support to supplement funds raised locally primarily through ad valorem taxes, and a state-wide minimum salary for all teachers with individual districts able to offer more if local revenues were available.
More controversial sections of the proposal called for creation of an elected state school board which would in turn appoint a state school superintendent to administer the State Department of Education. Previously the office had been an elected one, which did not always insure a candidate with expertise in education. Always controversial was a proposal to bar parochial schools from using publicly owned school buses.
The Gilmer-Aikin Law represented the most significant reform in public education in Texas since free text books and compulsory attendance were adopted earlier in the twentieth century. The statute changed the nine-member appointed State Board of Education and the elected state superintendent of public instruction into an elected twenty-one-member board with the power to appoint a commissioner of education, subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate. The board and commissioner, supported by a staff, composed the State Department of Education, now the Texas Education Agency. The statute also guaranteed Texas children minimum public-schooling opportunities for twelve school years of nine months with a minimum of 175 actual teaching days per year. Later debates over the direction of educational reform in Texas have all been conducted within the framework provided by the Gilmer-Aikin Laws.