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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

THE GILMER-AIKIN LAW


by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Recently I had a conversation with a young student preparing for a teaching career who had never heard of the Gilmer-Aikin Law. Time, then, to remember this landmark law passed by the Texas legislature that brought the state's educational system at least and at last into the twentieth century.

Here's how it came about: When the Fiftieth Legislature reached an impasse over establishing a minimum salary for public school teachers in 1947, they authorized a joint committee chaired by Representative Claud Gilmer and Senator A.M. Aikin Jr., of Paris, to study the problem. 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.

Opponents and proponents of the proposal represented every corner of the political landscape, and they used letter writing campaigns and media blitzkrieg to try to encourage or inhibit passage of the law. In the Senate, the bill was directed successfully by Senator James E. Taylor, and in the House by Representative Rae Files Still.


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. It guaranteed a minimal standard for all school children in Texas for a minimum of 175 days per year for twelve years.

Of course, things have changed in public schools over the last half-century. Among other things, the Department of Education is now the Texas Education Agency and the state superintendent is appointed by the governor. And there are other problems, particularly how to fund escalating education costs in a state whose people's mantra is "no new taxes." We may no longer have insightful legislators like those who worked for the progress represented by the Gilmer-Aikin Law, but we should not forget those who did so once upon a time.



"All Things Historical" January 11-17, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.



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