In 1947 the Fiftieth Texas Legislature established a committee to study educational reform, in the wake of a legislative deadlock over the passage of a minimum-salary law for Texas public school teachers. This committee was later named the Gilmer-Aikin Committee, after Representative Claud Gilmer and Senator A. M. Aikin, Jr. The committee's work culminated in proposals to make Texas public schools more efficient and better funded in order to provide better educational opportunities for Texas children. The Gilmer-Aikin Committee used a statewide network of advisory and county committees to inform the public of its goals. This broad dissemination of information about the proposals was an indispensable element in the eventual passage of the Gilmer-Aikin Laws.
In 1949 the Senate of the Fifty-first Legislature readily adopted the three bills containing the Gilmer-Aikin Committee proposals. Senator James E. Taylor, a conservative member of the committee, guided the proposals through the Senate. Passage in the House was more problematic. Representative Rae Files Still, a former Gilmer-Aikin Committee member and sponsor of the House companion bills, avoided temporarily relinquishing her position as chairman of the House Education Committee, by hearing the Senate bills rather than the House versions. Thus she sidestepped House rules, which would have required her to step down from the chair to present her bills. This careful maneuvering was required in order to overcome the stiff opposition of letter campaigns and critical radio shows that objected to two measures of the bill-replacement of an elected state superintendent of public instruction by an appointed commissioner of education, and the prohibition of the use of school buses by parochial schools. Opponents called the bills both Communist and Fascist and tried to kill them by delay tactics, including an attempt to break the quorum by encouraging a third of the House members to boycott the session. The House Education Committee hearings on the bills included the first all-night committee hearing in the Texas legislature's history. Finally, the bills were passed with some amendments, which were either accepted by the Senate or ironed out in the House-Senate conference committee.
The effects of the statute were evident immediately, as 4,500 school districts were consolidated into 2,900 more efficient administrative units. State equalization funding supplemented local taxes. Further, higher salaries attracted teachers to the classroom and encouraged the study of education among prospective teachers. School staffs were augmented by education specialists. State funding became dependent on attendance, thus providing an incentive to increase attendance.
The statute changed the nine-member appointed State Board of Education and the elected state superintendent of public instruction into an elected twenty-one-member board with the power to appoint a commissioner of education, subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate. The board and commissioner, supported by a staff, composed the State Department of Education, now the Texas Education Agency. The statute also guaranteed Texas children minimum public-schooling opportunities for twelve school years of nine months with a minimum of 175 actual teaching days per year. Later debates over the direction of educational reform in Texas have all been conducted within the framework provided by the Gilmer-Aikin Laws.