Texans have long been concerned about the education of their children.
The Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 listed the failure
of the Mexican government "to establish any public system of
education, although possessed of almost boundless resources..."
among the reasons for severing political ties with Mexico.
The first Anglo-American public school law in Texas was enacted
in 1840 and provided for surveying and setting aside four leagues
(17,712 acres) of land in each county to support public schools.
Later, the state constitution of 1845 provided that one-tenth of
the annual state tax revenue be set aside as a perpetual fund to
support free public schools.
In 1845, a new school law set aside as a permanent school fund
$2 million of the $10 million in five-percent U.S. Indemnity bonds
received in settlement of Texas' boundary claims against the United
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the new state constitution
of 1876 set aside 45 million acres of public domain for school support
and directed that the income from the new Permanent School Fund
be invested in bonds.
In 1884, the school law again was rewritten. The office of state
superintendent was re-created, the state ad valorem tax was affirmed,
and the Permanent School Fund was to be invested in county and other
bonds to increase income. Almost 100 years later, in 1983, Texas
voters approved a constitutional amendment that provides for the
guarantee of school district bonds by the Permanent School Fund.
On approval by the commissioner of education, bonds properly issued
by a school district are fully guaranteed by the corpus of the Fund.
Today, income from the Permanent School Fund provides approximately
$765 million a year to local school districts.
A series of additional laws gradually granted cities and towns
more freedom in the development and administration of their schools,
resulting in the formation of independent school districts. By 1900
there were 526 such districts in which the high school replaced
the earlier academy. Today, there are some 1,039 independent school
districts in Texas.
A system of accreditation was created in 1885 when high schools
sent selected test papers for examination by the faculty of the
University of Texas. If found satisfactory, the school was considered
to be affiliated with the university and its graduates were admitted
In 1911, a rural high school law was passed which established county
boards of education and permitted creation of rural high schools
and the consolidation of common school districts. This effort to
make common or rural schools equal with those in the independent
or urban districts took another step forward with passage of a law
in 1917 authorizing state purchase of textbooks. Expansion of rural
aid to schools, including state support for teacher salaries, gradually
helped improve the education provided to children on the state's
farms and ranches.
The drive for improved public education gained further momentum
in 1949, with passage of the Gilmer-Aikin laws which created the
Foundation School Program to apportion state funds to local school
districts. The new legislation also reorganized the administration
of public education, created an elected State Board of Education
that appointed a commissioner of education, and reorganized the
administration of state public school policy through the Texas Education
In 1984, the Texas Legislature passed what is commonly known as
House Bill 72, enacting sweeping reforms of the public school system.
House Bill 72 provided a pay raise for teachers, revamped the system
of public school finance to funnel more money to property-poor school
districts, and took many other steps aimed at improving the academic
achievement of students.
A second major reform to the Texas Education System occurred in
1995 with the complete overhaul of the Texas Education Code. Passed
by the 74th Legislature, Senate Bill 1 stripped the education code
of several state-mandated rules and returned more authority to local
school districts; gave the governor power to appoint the commissioner;
gave the State Board of Education authority to grant open-enrollment
charter schools, and established the separate State Board for Educator
Open enrollment charter schools are being established as an alternative
to traditional public education schools. Today, Texas has about
185 operating charter schools that only have to comply with minimum
provisions of the education code, but operate with state funds and
provide alternative methods of instruction.
Equity spending among school districts has been a driving force
during the latter half of the 20st century. From 1989 to today,
the system of school finance has been subject to both legislative
volleys and on-going court battles between those termed “property-poor”
and those termed “wealthy” school districts. In 1993,
the Texas Legislature passed new legislation intent on leveling
the funding field for Texas schools.
Senate Bill 7 was passed to ensure that none of Texas’ school
districts had more than a set amount of property wealth per student.
Those districts that exceed the set limit, can choose among several
options for giving away some wealth, including merging tax bases
with one or more “property-poor” districts; sending
money to the state; contracting to educate students in other districts;
consolidating voluntarily with one or more districts, or moving
some taxable property to another district’s tax rolls.
In addition to establishing financial equity for schools districts,
the bill also created the state’s well-regarded education
accountability system. Now the model for the 2002 federal education
plan, No Child Left Behind, the Texas accountability system measures
and holds schools and districts accountable for student performance
on assessment tests and dropout rates. Campuses and districts each
year receive an accountability rating based on the percentage of
all students and the four student groups (white, Hispanic, African
American and economically disadvantaged) that pass the state’s
assessment tests at grades three through eleven. The rating also
considers the overall student dropout rate and each individual student
Texas students continue to be held to ever-increasing accountability
standards through more rigorous curriculum and graduation requirements,
and implementation of a new, tougher statewide assessment test,
including the provision that third-grade students must pass the
test, along with their coursework, to be promoted. In the future,
additional grades will be required to pass the test, along with
coursework, to be promoted to the next grade.