Education in Texas

Education has long been a concern in Texas. The 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence cited the Mexican government's failure to set up a public school system as one of the reasons for ending the state's political affiliation with Mexico. The declaration made mention of the fact that Mexico's failure in setting up a school system occurred in spite of "almost boundless resources."

Texas enacted its first public school law in 1840. This law provided funds to survey and set aside four leagues, or 17,712 acres of land, to set up public schools in each county. In 1845, the state constitution provided that one tenth of annual state tax revenues would be used to create a fund to support free public schools. That same year, a new law created a permanent school fund from $2 million of the $10 million worth of 5% United States Indemnity bonds Texas had received as a settlement in boundary claims against the United States.

In 1876, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the state produced a new constitution. This document pledged 45 million acres of public domain land for the support of Texas schools. The constitution directed that income generated from the Permanent School Fund be used to invest in bonds. Today, the Permanent School Fund provides an annual $765 million to Texas school districts.

As new educational laws were drafted, cities and towns in Texas gained greater freedom in developing and administrating schools and independent school districts were formed. By 1900, there were 526 school districts in the state, with high schools rather than the earlier academy system. As of 2010, there were 1,039 independent Texas school districts.

In 1885, a system of accreditation was set in motion. High schools sent a selection of student test papers to be examined by the faculty at the University of Texas. If the university deemed these papers satisfactory, the high school earned an affiliation with the university. Graduates from these affiliated high schools were admitted to the university without having to take any further examinations.

In 1917, a new law authorized the state purchase of textbooks. Aid to rural schools, including state support for teachers in rural areas, raised the standard of education for farm and ranch children to levels comparable to those of city schools. In 1949, the Gilmer-Aikin Laws created the Foundation School Program which apportioned state funds to school districts.

Texas schools were segregated even after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This meant that African-American children received an education much inferior to that of their white counterparts. Latino children also suffered from the gap in educational provisions for children of color in Texas.

Texas education became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision with the Sweatt v. Painter case. In 1950, the plaintiff attempted to enroll in the law school of the University of Texas, a "whites only" school. Instead of admitting Sweatt, the university created a separate school for him. The new facility was inferior and violated the principle of "separate but equal" established by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896. The Supreme Court forced the university to admit Sweatt to its existing law school. This case helped form the basis of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The Texas Legislature passed House Bill 72 in 1984, which was concerned with reforming the state's public school system. Teachers received raises, more money was apportioned to land-poor school districts and many other improvements were set into place to help Texan students get ahead. In 1995, Senate Bill 1, passed by the 74th Legislature did away with many state laws, returning authority to local school districts. The governor was granted the power to appoint a commissioner and the State Board of Education was given the power to establish open-enrollment charter schools, an alternative to public schools. By the end of 2010, Texas had around 185 operational charter schools. Such schools needed only to comply with a minimum of the rules set forth in the education code. Charter schools received state funding and offered alternative methods of instruction.

Senate Bill 7 addressed school property wealth. School districts exceeding a set limit for property wealth per student were given options for sharing the wealth with students deemed "property-poor." This bill also laid down the state's accountability system for education. This well-regarded initiative was used as the model for the federal education plan, No Child Left Behind, in 2002.The Texas accountability system holds districts and individual schools responsible for student performance. An annual ratings system evaluates minority and economic status, assessment test scores for children in grades three through eleven and student dropout rate.

Education in Texas: Selected full-text books and articles

Staffing At-Risk School Districts in Texas: Problems and Prospects By Sheila Nataraj Kirby; Scott Naftel; Mark Berends Rand, 1999
The Gold Star State By Palmaffy, Tyce Policy Review, No. 88, March-April 1998
Texas' TAAS Miracle or Mirage? By Patterson, Jennifer C Curriculum Administrator, Vol. 36, No. 7, August 2000
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