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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Say what?

This article clarifies the Supreme Court decision on school finance. My concern is that even if the Court didn't advocate vouchers, Brister's opinion could give the legislature a green light on pursuing vouchers during the upcoming special session. -Angela

Tue, Dec. 06, 2005
Say what?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It will come as no surprise to some readers that reporters sometimes make mistakes. Nevertheless, this Editorial Board was shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that editorial writers, even those who work for such a national institution as The Wall Street Journal, are also fallible.

We believe that the Journal fumbled on a major point in its Nov. 29 editorial about the recent Texas Supreme Court decision on school finance.

The editorial's primary point was a legitimate one: A key aspect of the court's ruling was its recognition that more money for schools does not guarantee better schools or better-educated students. Drawing attention to and celebrating that point, which runs contrary to what the editorial called "the core doctrine of the education establishment," is entirely consistent with the paper's conservative philosophy.

Then the Journal blew it by writing: "Even more encouraging, the court endorsed more choices for parents and the state's 4.3 million school kids. It said flatly: 'Public education could benefit from more competition.' "

That's not what the court said -- not flatly or roundaboutly.

The ruling was a 7-1 decision. The lone dissenter, Justice Scott Brister, wrote a dissenting opinion in which he explored the contention that competition would make public schools more efficient.

The majority opinion discussed educational competition only in response to Brister, pointing out that neither the attorneys for the state nor those from the school districts that brought the case had raised the issue.

The majority's pertinent comment, only part of which was quoted by the Journal:

"We cannot dictate how the parties present their case or reject their contentions simply because we would prefer to address others. Perhaps, as the dissent contends, public education could benefit from more competition, but the parties have not raised this argument and therefore we do not address it."

There is healthy debate about the competition/voucher issue in Texas. Our point, for now, is this: It would be a big mistake for Texans to believe that their Supreme Court advocated vouchers in this important school finance decision. It didn't, no matter who says otherwise.

The real puzzle here is why The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers missed or ignored the part where the court justices said that "we do not address it."

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