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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
by Archie P. McDonald - Order Here