• With: Jason Riley, James Freeman, Dan Henninger, Joe Rago, Collin Levy

    HENNINGER: And that was Justice Kennedy -- that was the question that Justice Kennedy raised in those arguments.

    RILEY: The left wants to pretend that this is really about black voter access or ballot access among minorities. It isn't, Paul. Section 5 allowed racial gerrymandering, creating safe black and Hispanic seats in Congress. That is the power the left wants to preserve by continuing Section 5. It no longer has anything to do with black voter disenfranchisement.

    GIGOT: Collin, you followed the oral arguments and the reporting on it was that the conservative justices were very critical, skeptical, and looked to be maybe near to overturning it. How did you see it?

    LEVY: Yes, I think that's right. Dan mentioned obviously that Justice Roberts questioned very closely whether or not that racism still exists in the south. But also, notable was that Justice Kennedy said at one point that these far formulas may have been appropriate at one time, but times have changed, and that's the key take away from the oral arguments, was the justice's awareness that those formulas may no longer be appropriate.

    GIGOT: Collin, do you think that this decision will hang on what Justice Kennedy does, as so often so many of these cases do?

    LEVY: I think so. I think the justices pretty much stayed true to character all the way across the board during the oral arguments. So people will be watching Justice Kennedy. But he's indicated in the past, in 2009, Northwest Austin (ph), he joined that overwhelming -- overwhelming hints the Supreme Court dropped that they were interested in revisiting the constitutionality here.

    GIGOT: So this could be 5-4 in the conservative direction, or 4-5 in the other direction. Is that how you read it?

    LEVY: Yes, it could. You know, there's also a possibility here that the justices could look at changing the formula, but not getting rid entirely of the pre-clearance requirement. That's another possibility.

    GIGOT: One of the ironies here, Jason, you brought up the racial gerrymandering point. If this is overturned, this could help Democrats in the House because the Republicans have been able to dominate congressional seats in the House, because of the racial gerrymandering, which pushes so many minority voters into a few districts --

    RILEY: Yes.

    GIGOT: -- and makes Democrats less competitive across the entire south.

    When we come back, a closer look at President Obama's universal preschool push. Some states tried it. So does it work? We'll look at the evidence, next.

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Every dollar, every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime. Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works. If you're looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    GIGOT: That was President Obama earlier this month in Decatur, Georgia, making his case for a universal public preschool. It was a center piece of his state of the union address. And since 1995, Georgia has subsidized free preschool for families regardless of income. So, does this benefit really work as well as the president claims?

    We've asked Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Joe Rago, to take a look at the evidence.

    I know in politics nowadays evidence doesn't count for much, Joe, but let's give it a try. $7 return for $1 investment? What's the real story there?

    JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Right. What the president is relying on is two classic social science papers from 40 and 50 years ago. It's very intensive pre-school projects, they were known as the Perry Project and the ABC project.

    GIGOT: Involving how many children?

    RAGO: Involving 111 children in one project and a dozen infants -- a few dozen infants in the other.

    GIGOT: And did this -- were the returns what he says in those cases?

    RAGO: They were even a little higher than what he said. Vast returns from these. But the problem is these were very small, very intensive. They involved parental counseling, health care services --

    GIGOT: So, multiple intrusions into the household and the families and the children. How expensive were they?

    RAGO: Right, Well, in some cases $40,000 a year, which is comparable to Ivy League education. If you look at Georgia, the spend about $4,000 per child on their individual -- on their universal --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Georgia only spends $4,000. And these cases the president cites at a minimum spent at least four times that and, in some cases, 10 times -- 10 times that. Is that replicable around the country?

    RAGO: Right. It's not replicable. And if you look at preschool in Georgia, what happens is any academic gains, any social gains from these programs fades out as the children progress through elementary school. So there really isn't any lasting effect from this investment.

    GIGOT: Jason, what about the Georgia and Oklahoma experiment? These are two states that, not normally identified as liberal states, the president is citing as examples.

    RILEY: Right. And he's talking about the outcomes in these states and trying to link them to the universal pre-k programs that they have.

    GIGOT: Right.

    RILEY: But the evident isn't there. Again, the knock on these programs is that the effects aren't lasting, that they're very short lived. And in the case in Georgia --

    GIGOT: They fade out by the third grade, right?

    RILEY: Third or fourth grade. You can't tell who was in the program and who wasn't. But in Georgia Florida and Oklahoma, for example, teen pregnancy rates are well above the national average. And even though math and reading test scores for black kids are above the national average, they were before the universal pre-k kicked in. So again, the causal relationship we're supposed to see from this just isn't there.

    But, Paul, on its face, the current K through 12 education system doesn't do a great job of educating the kids it already has. The idea that we should add kids to the system is sort of foolish on its face.

    GIGOT: But there is, Dan, this problem of really underutilized human potential in America. You see these kids and families that come out, they don't have the parents teaching them their ABC's. They don't have them preparing them the way that you were prepared by your parents and I was prepared at home in reading, even, before they get to kindergarten. What do you do with the kids to try to improve their lives?

    HENNINGER: Well, that's a hard question. The source of the seven-to-one payoff is Jane Heckman (ph), a University of Chicago economist, noble Laureate, who agrees with something you said, who supports the programs that Joe just described. And was interviewed recently about all this and he said he's very cautious and skeptical about whether you can design a broad-based program to achieve these ends. It's something that's very hard to do. And the idea that now President Obama is going to throw all of this money at a program, Head Start, that's been proven not to succeed --

    GIGOT: $8 billion a year.

    HENNINGER: $8 billion a year.