Article VII, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution

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Adopted February 15, 1876:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

Editor Comments

Over the past thirty-plus years, the Texas Supreme Court has struggled to determine and define the enforceable requirements of this fundamental section. Cf. Allan E. Parker Jr., Public Free Schools: A Constitutional Right to Educational Choice in Texas, 45 Sw L.J. 825, 918 (1991) ("By their insistence on an efficient system, the framers of the Texas Constitution hoped to forever prohibit the growth of a centralized, compulsory, state-operated educational monopoly.").

Steve Smith

Recent Decisions

  • Morath v. Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coal., 490 S.W.3d 826, 833 (Tex. 2016) ("For the seventh time since the late-1980s, we are called upon to assess the constitutionality of the Texas school finance system, a recondite scheme for which the word 'Byzantine' seems generous. In this round, more than half of the State's 1,000+ school districts have brought the most far-reaching funding challenge in Texas history. We are presented with a court reporter's record of over 200,000 pages and a trial court judgment accompanied by 1,508 findings of fact . . . . Despite the imperfections of the current school funding regime, it meets minimum constitutional requirements.")
  • Neeley v. W. Orange-Cove Consol. I.S.D., 176 S.W.3d 746, 753 (Tex. 2005) (footnotes omitted) ("We have referred to efficiency in the broader sense as 'qualitative', and to efficiency in the context of funding as 'financial'. The parties have also referred to financial efficiency as 'quantitative'. Another standard set by the constitutional provision is that public education achieve '[a] general diffusion of knowledge . . . essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people'. We have labeled this standard 'adequacy', and the parties have adopted the same convention. . . . A third constitutional standard is that the provision made for public education be 'suitable'.")

Historic Decisions

  • Edgewood I.S.D. v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391, 394 (Tex. 1989) ("This is not an area in which the Constitution vests exclusive discretion in the legislature; rather the language of article VII, section 1 imposes on . . . . This duty is not committed unconditionally to the legislature's discretion, but instead is accompanied by standards. By express constitutional mandate, the legislature must make 'suitable' provision for an 'efficient' system for the 'essential' purpose of a 'general diffusion of knowledge.' While these are admittedly not precise terms, they do provide a standard by which this court must, when called upon to do so, measure the constitutionality of the legislature's actions.")
  • Mumme v. Marrs, 40 S.W.2d 31, 36 (Tex. 1931) ("Referring now to the basis of the Act, that the Legislature has the right to give aid from the general revenue to financially weak schools, we think the constitutional mandate that the Legislature shall make 'suitable provision . . . schools,' ample authority. The word 'suitable,' used in connection with the word 'provision' in this section of the Constitution, is an elastic term, depending upon the necessities of changing times or conditions, and clearly leaves to the Legislature the right to determine what is suitable, and its determination will not be reviewed by the courts if the act has a real relation to the subject and object of the Constitution.")
  • Slocomb v. Cameron I.S.D., 288 S.W. 1064, 1066 (Tex. 1926) ("Finally, we think it would be unjust to ascribe any other intention to the Legislature. There is no such thing, in one sense, as a free school. Their operation is . . . . The state should not, in all fairness, ask local districts to pay its bills. It should not be held to intend to not only command a local district to educate outsiders, but to do so at the expense of such local district. It is not equitable, under any circumstances, to force another to pay your obligations. For these several reasons, we think the Legislature intended, in passing the transfer act aforesaid, to permit the charging of such tuition as Cameron is now assessing.")
  • Glass v. Pool, 166 S.W. 375, 377 (Tex. 1914) ("In the form of counter propositions counsel for appellee present these grounds of invalidity of the law creating the Clifton independent school district: (1) The form of the district which excludes appellees from its benefits. (2) That the act does not provide an efficient system of free schools, and is void. (3) The Legislature has no power to create a school district in such form as to . . . . This conclusion embraces all of the objections which relate to the unfairness, injustice, and wrong to the complainants, whether they occurred through fraud, inadvertence, or want of information; all of these matters were settled by enacting the law.")
  • Webb County v. Bd. of Sch. Trs. of Laredo, 65 S.W. 878, 879-80 (Tex. 1901) ("Our organic law, in the article devoted to the subject of public education, contains this emphatic declaration: 'A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of the state to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.' Const. art. 7, § 1. This devolves the duty of establishing and maintaining public free schools upon the legislature, and shows that the function of such establishment and maintenance was to be performed by state agencies.")
  • City of Ft. Worth v. Davis, 57 Tex. 225, 231 (1882) ("In furtherance of this idea, sec. 1, art. VII, of the constitution is referred to, as follows: 'A general . . . .' It is argued that this article impliedly gives the power to the legislature to direct the levy of such taxes as may be necessary in each school district to support an efficient system of free schools. But in our opinion the constitution, pervaded throughout as it is by a manifest purpose of limiting the taxing power of the legislature and of all the municipal or political subdivisions of the state, has clearly expressed that purpose in reference to taxation for public schools, leaving no room for any such implied authority as is claimed.")

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