Wesley Null, vice provost for undergraduate education at Baylor University, and I wrote this piece for the Dallas Morning News.

Texas legislators are revising the state’s school finance laws. We wanted to put before the public the importance of paying teachers well.

Some legislators are enthusiastic about what they call “outcomes-based funding,” which would send more money to affluent districts and less money to needy districts. This would be a huge mistake for obvious reasons. It’s reverse Robin Hood.

Long ago, Texas had visionaries in the legislature who understood that the future of the state relied on having a strong public education system. Current legislators think they can use charters as a substitute for adequate funding.

In 1948, those visionaries proposed a dramatic increase in state funding and equalization. Gilmer and Aiken persuaded their colleagues to raise the state share of funding to 75-80% of costs. This year, the state share will fall to 39%, shifting the burden of financing schools to localities, which favors the richest districts.

We wrote:

The heart of any school is the teacher. The only way to ensure that every Texas child receives a quality education is to place a well-educated, well-prepared teacher in every classroom. That truth will never change.

The attractiveness of teaching, however, continues to decline. The results are tragic. Labor Department statistics reveal that public educators are leaving the profession at the highest rate in 20 years. Low pay and disrespect are key factors in this alarming decline.

The Texas Legislature this session will have the job of remedying the state’s public school finance system. As historians of education, we think some background is helpful.

The last time Texas overhauled public school finance was immediately following World War II. The need for change was great. Many young Texans had been denied the opportunity to serve during the war because of their poor level of education. Such news was embarrassing to Texas leadership. 

Compulsory attendance laws existed, but they had many loopholes. Only 65 percent of school-aged children attended school. Only 40 percent of adults had a high school education. Many school buildings were dilapidated and dangerous. 

School finance was based on a census count of how many school-aged kids lived in a county regardless of whether those students attended school. Consequently, funds were commonly distributed but no education took place. Pay for teachers was embarrassingly low, leading to difficulties with recruitment and retention.

Fortunately, Texas had leaders who were driven by foresight and determination. Named in honor of legislators Claud Gilmer and A.M. Aikin, the Gilmer-Aikin Laws modernized Texas education. They revolutionized school finance, substantially increased pay for teachers, rebuilt dilapidated buildings, and redesigned teacher education and certification.

Please read it all!