The Denton State School, in the early 1990s one of thirteen state facilities that provided care and treatment for the intellectually disabled, operates under the management of the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. The school is located on a 200-acre tract four miles south-southeast of Denton, and it serves twenty-two counties in northeast Texas. In 1957, after a vigorous lobbying effort by the Denton Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation chose Denton as the site for the state school because of the city's proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth and because of its universities-Texas Woman's University, which at that time had the largest nursing program in the state, and North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas), which had the largest teacher-training facility in Texas. Another influence on the department's decision was the city's pledge to donate land for the school. In thirty-four days during November and December of 1957, 2,000 Denton residents contributed $102,000 to a Mental School Cash Campaign conducted by the city's chamber of commerce.
Construction of the school began on March 7, 1959, and was completed in July 1960. Originally, the school accepted only citizens of Texas between the ages of six and twenty-one who had IQs of seventy or below. By 1980, however, the age restriction had been removed. E. W. (Ed) Killian, a North Texas State graduate, was the school's first superintendent. During Killian's twenty-year tenure, the number of residents of the school increased, as did the number of facilities and programs designed for their care. In 1994 the school had more than sixty buildings-including residential facilities leased off-campus-and 2,000 employees serving 670 residents and a large number of off-campus clients. School programs included vocational services and early childhood intervention. The school also directed an outreach community service with facilities in twelve counties. In addition, Denton's foster grandparent program provides a means for senior citizens to give one-to-one attention to residents at the school. The Texas Department of Human Resources (now the Texas Department Of Human Services) and the Texas Education Agency provided funds to the school. Although well over 90 percent of the school's income came from the state, the school also received financial support from the United States departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Education. In 1994 Pat Jessee served as superintendent of the school.