Tribpedia: Public Education

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.


A student raises his hand during the class reading time at Union Hill Elementary School. Dec 7, 2015.
Reporter Aliyya Swaby (l.) moderates a panel on race and education in Texas with (l-r) Assistant Superintendent for the San Antonio ISD Judith Solis, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell, former Texas education Commissioner Michael Williams and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio at The Texas Tribune Symposium on Race and Public Policy at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin on January 14, 2017.
Dr. Susan Tortolero (right) and Pastor Ed Ainsworth (left) Dr. Susan Tortolero, the director of the University of Texas Prevention Research Center and an asssociate professor of Behavioral Science and Health Promotion, and Epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, in her office in Houston Monday, September 12, 2011. Fourth and fifth grade students at the Austin Discovery School. Austin High School Crowd rallies inside Texas Capitol to opposing school budget cuts on June 6th, 2011 Young girl holds up sign during school budget rally at Texas Capitol June 6th, 2011 Young Hispanic student from Houston holds with sign indicating budget cut amount to school district during press conference on June 6th, 2011 Texas American Federation of Teacher's President Linda Bridges, speaks during press conference on June 6th, 2011 Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, debates a bill on the Senate floor on May 25, 2011. State Rep. Rob Eissler (c, top), R-The Woodlands, and State Rep. Borris Miles (c, bottom) wait for a ruling on HB400 point of order on April 26, 2011. State Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, raises a point of order on HB400 that sends the bill back to the House Education Committee on April 26, 2011. State Rep. Borris Miles (l), D-Houston, raises a point of order on HB400 the education bill sponsored by State Rep. Rob Eissler (r), R-The Woodlands, on April 26, 2011. Hundreds of people shows up during rally for Texas Library, Apr 13th 2011. Hundreds of people shows up during rally for Texas Library, Apr 13th 2011. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, debates an amendment to an education bill on April 6, 2011. State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, holds up an amendment to HB500 the education bill in the Texas House on April 6, 2011. State Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, talks with his colleagues about HB500 the education bill on April 6, 2011. The University of Texas at Austin. The Carrol A. "Butch" Thomas Educational Support Center, which includes a football and soccer stadium and a natatorium, was built as part of a $388.6 bond package. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, speaks to the press with her Republican Senate colleagues supporting education on March 23, 2011. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, speaks to the press on Senate support for Texas teachers and classrooms on March 23, 2011. Lorenzo Martinez during his lunch on Friday. Lorenzo Martinez giving out hand wipes to his friends after lunch. Lorenzo Martinez during his lunch on Friday. Kime Mitchell prepares to take her son Ryan to school. Ryan Mitchell sits in the passenger seat as his mother drives him to school. Ryan Mitchell on his way to his class. Marathon Elementary School. Superintendent Neal Harrison in a hallway at Marathon ISD. Barton Hills Elementary is one of eight that may close in Austin Independent School District. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District superintendent Daniel King speaks to graduates from Options High School, College Career & Technology Academy and Teen-Age Parenting Program High School during their graduation ceremony December 16, 2010 at the San Juan Middle School Auditorium in San Juan, Texas. Brookings Institute Mapped Educational attainment nationwide. Texas ranks last — 51st — in the percentage of adults with high school diploma, largely due to rapid immigration growth. The state ranks significantly higher on college attainment.

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