A school freedom template
- The following is an editorial from today's Wall Street Journal,
entitled "Texas School Lesson." The Texas Supreme Court's school funding
decision has major implications for education everywhere, not just in
Texas. It would be a priceless gift if the New Hampshire Supreme Court
would see and understand the lessons reflected in the Texas case, and
reverse the "judicial fiat" Claremont decisions that have wrought havoc
with school funding for the past several years. In New Hampshire, it is
also notable that former state representative David Scott, the author of
the school choice/voucher law that failed by a single vote in the NH
General Court two years ago, has just been elected to the City Council
of the seacoast area town of Dover. ----Tim Condon
"TEXAS SCHOOL LESSON"
The Texas Supreme Court did the expected last week and struck down the
statewide property tax for funding public schools. But what was
surprising and welcome was the Court's unanimous ruling that the Texas
school system, which spends nearly $10,000 per student, satisfies the
funding "adequacy" requirements of the state constitution. Most
remarkable of all was the court's declaration that "more money does not
guarantee better schools or more educated students."
Think about that one for a second. To our knowledge, this is the first
time anywhere in the country that the judiciary has flatly rejected the
core doctrine of the education establishment that more dollars equal
better classroom performance. And it is potentially very good news for
students, especially those from the poorest neighborhoods, because it
shifts the policy emphasis from money to achievement. Better send the
paramedics to check for heart failure at National Education Association
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." The Texas Public Policy
Foundation, which provided much of the academic research for the court,
looked at the Edgewood school district in San Antonio, where donors
started a privately financed voucher program. The results indicate that
not only have the kids with the vouchers benefited, but so have kids in
the public schools that are now forced to compete for students.
We hope that courts and school boards across the country study the Texas
decision -- including its comments on school financing: "The
Constitution does not require a particular solution," Judge Nathan Hecht
wrote for the majority. "We leave such matters to the discretion of the
Legislature." In other words, it's not the proper role of the judiciary
to intervene in the operation or financing of the public schools.
That kind of judicial thinking tends to be the exception these days.
Over the past two decades, courts in more than 30 states have intervened
in education policy and ordered billions of dollars spent on schools in
the name of boosting student performance and ensuring equitable
financing. The result has been an avalanche of new spending on
inner-city and rural schools, but, alas, not much measurable achievement
by the kids who were supposed to be helped.
In one of the most notorious cases, in Kansas City, Missouri in the
1980s, a judge issued an edict requiring a $1 billion tax hike to help
the failing inner-city schools. This raised expenditures to about
$14,000 per student, or double the national average, but test scores
continued to decline. Even the judge later admitted that he had blundered.
The hope now is that, as Republican Governor Rick Perry and the state
legislature search for a new school financing mechanism next year, they
will accept the court's invitation to open up the school system to a
wide range of options including charters, vouchers, scholarships and
rewards for quality, such as teacher pay for performance. If so, the
Lone Star State, once the home of some of the worst public schools in
the country, could become the national model for educational excellence.
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