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State Journal: Nonpublic; Plugging choice

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What began as an effort to gain greater recognition for the achievements of students and schools in the Lone Star State instead has mushroomed into a political nightmare in the wake of a state proposal to spend more than $2 million on a public-relations campaign.

An advertising agency with connections to officials in Gov. Ann W. Richards's re-election campaign proposed touting the "Texas School System,'' studiously avoiding the word "public.'' It has become a dirty word, the agency said, associated with grimy bathrooms, dangerous housing, and lackluster schools.

The analysis cost $3,000.

The state school board did its best to sweep the issue under the rug at its meeting this month and distance itself from the concept, as did the Governor, who said in a letter to the board that she was "greatly disturbed.''

Campaign spokesmen for her Republican opponent in November, George W. Bush, called the matter "bureaucracy gone berserk.''

State education officials said the matter was an example of an attempt to spread good news gone bad.

Puerto Rico's experiment with a voucher program has become a pet cause of the private-school-choice movement in the United States. The commonwealth has been aided in the defense of its voucher plan by the Institute for Justice, a public-interest legal organization in Washington.

And last week, Jose Arsenio Torres, Puerto Rico's secretary of education, delivered a lecture about the voucher plan at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, contending that radical reforms are needed to break the "vested interests'' of the education establishment.

Mr. Torres said a 1993 reform law gives low-income familes vouchers worth up to $1,500, which can be used at public or private schools or for college courses.

Public schools enrolling voucher students get to use the money as a "premium,'' he said. Almost as many students have switched from private to public schools as from public to private, he said.

The local National Education Association affiliate challenged the plan, and a judge ruled that it violates provisions of the commonwealth's constitution that bar aid to private schools.

The commonwealth has appealed.--LONNIE HARP & MARK WALSH

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