School trusts were created by the U.S. Congress at statehood. Congress granted 137 million acres in trust to support schools. The statehood act along with the state constitution create a sacred compact between the federal government and each state. States assumed the responsibility to manage the lands to support public education. Each school trust consists of two parts: lands and permanent school funds.
School trust lands include lands that were granted by Congress to states at the time of their statehood, the mineral rights associated with those surface acres, lands acquired by exchanging school trust lands, and lands purchased with funds generated from a state’s school trust. How states manage school trust lands depends on the state. Some common uses of trust lands include oil and gas production, wind farms, grazing, agriculture, timber, solar farms, rights-of-way, and commercial, industrial and residential development.
Permanent school funds are made up of the revenue generated from school trust lands. The main purpose of permanent school funds is to ensure that future generations of schoolchildren receive benefit from school trust lands in perpetuity. Throughout history, school trust lands have faced many challenges that have diminished their ability to fulfill their purpose: providing funding to public schools. Even today, the significant funding stream for the nation’s public schoolchildren that comes from school trust lands is threatened.
At one time, every state had a land grant and/or a school fund held in a trust for public education. The General Land Ordinance of 1785 set aside one square mile in each thirty-six square mile township (almost three percent of a state’s total land area) “for the benefit of public schools.” As western states entered the Union, the grants expanded to two square miles per township (about 5.5% of a state’s total land area). When Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico entered the Union, they were each granted four sections per township (over 11% of each state’s total land area), because their land was so arid.
School Trusts Video
CLASS has produced a short film about School Trust Lands in the United States that runs about 12 minutes in length. It explains about the original grants of land made to the states as they entered the Union, the associated permanent funds, and how the school trusts are making a difference for school children.