More tax dollars are spent on public education than on any other governmental program in the state. Public elementary and secondary education in Texas is financed by a combination of state, local, and federal revenue, a system that has produced inequities among the state's 1,030 traditional school districts and 207 charter operators.
As of 2010, more than 4.8 million students are part of the Texas public education system.
The local source of operating revenue for school districts is the property tax. This has led to wide disparities in education spending, as some districts with expensive commercial property have high tax bases, and other districts with low tax bases have to impose higher tax rates to raise less money.
Over the years, poor Texas districts struggled to maintain minimal education programs, while rich districts built more classrooms, attracted better teachers and in some cases, could build indoor football practice facilities. The struggle for equity in public education has continued into the early 2000's. (For more, see School Finance topic page)
The drive for improved public education led to the 1949 passage of the Gilmer-Aikin laws, which boosted funding for public schools and 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 Agency.
In the 1980's, concern in Texas grew about the quality of of public education when a national study called A Nation at Risk criticized education systems across the U.S. as inadequate. Then-Gov. Mark White, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and House Speaker Gib Lewis appointed a Select Committee on Public Education which found that high schools were graduating students who could barely read or write. The panel's study called for major reforms in order to produce a thriving workforce. (See Case studies in educational change: an international perspective, Volume 1)
Lawmakers in a special session of 1984 enacted House Bill 72, which raised taxes to boost education spending. The bill raised teacher pay, limited class sizes and required students to pass a standardized test before graduating from high school. It also replaced the elected State Board of Education with a new panel, appointed by the governor. (The SBOE has since changed back to an elected body.) But the 1984 law did not change the school finance system.
Texas students are held to accountability standards through curriculum and graduation requirements, and statewide assessment tests.