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Crossfire

Al Gore and George W. Bush Go Back to School

Aired March 24, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Al Gore and George W. Bush go back to school, but who goes to the head of the class when it comes to education?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, in Des Moines, Iowa, Senator Tom Harkin, a member of the Education Committee and an Al Gore supporter; and in Dallas, Texas, Lynne Cheney, a former chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Bush supporter.

PRESS: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It was back to school today for both Al Gore and George Bush. In a visit to Little Rock, Arkansas's Central High School, integration battleground of the '50s, Bush reached out to minorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Couldn't come to this school in the past if you were a black person. You weren't allowed in. And now the fundamental question is, once in, are you going to come out with an excellent education?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Gore spent the day at a middle school in Macomb, Michigan, taught class, talked with parents, ate lunch, liked it so much, he said he'd be back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I am entrusted with the presidency, I will continue having school days as president to focus attention on the challenge that our country faces, because I think that bringing revolutionary improvement to our public schools is the number one challenge we face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So is there any doubt both candidates see education as this year's number one issue and both are trying to take the lead? But there are big differences between them, on school vouchers, on school funding and on the role of the federal government. So which one should parents believe will do the best job saving America's public schools? That's tonight's debate, and let's get right to it.

Ohio Congressman John Kasich is back again tonight as guest host, sitting in for Mary Matalin.

John, good to have you here.

Welcome back.

REP. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Thank you, Bill. It's good to be back.

Senator Harkin, there's no question that school choice is going to be a major part of this campaign. And I wanted to read to you from a "Newsweek" magazine story about the killing of that 6-year-old girl by that 6-year-old boy, and I'm going to quote: "The drug dealers were so thick outside that at one point last year, extra police had to be brought in to clear a path for children walking home from school."

Senator Harkin, doesn't it make sense to allow parents to have the freedom, and the power and the resources to be able to take their kids out of that kind of an outrageous environment so at least they can be safe?

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Well, absolutely. I have nothing wrong with -- there's nothing wrong with having choice in public schools. The problem with Bush's plan, George Bush's plan, is that he would penalize the 90 percent of the kids that are in public schools by taking vouchers and giving it to kids to go to private schools, and that's what's wrong with his plan. But in terms of letting kids have a choice of public schools, we've done that here in Iowa, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's fine.

But I think we have a deeper problem here in terms of these young kids and making sure they get counseling and support services early in life. That's why when Vice President Gore says he's for universal preschool and making sure that every kid gets preschool education, that's why you've got to be in, early on in life, and that's why Gore's plan is the best one for our kids.

KASICH: But Senator Harkin, there are a limited number of options within the public school in terms of choice. And number two, just because you have choice within that same public school doesn't mean these kids would be safe. Why shouldn't parents have the resources to be able to send their kid to a private school, to get them out of that kind of a crossfire that these kids found themselves in that state? What is wrong with the idea of these parents having complete choice to use their judgment as to where their kids will be, secure and safe?

HARKIN: I have no problem with it. If parents want to send their kids to private school, that's fine, but we shouldn't use public school's monies to do so. Let's keep one thing in mind: Our schools are still the safest places for our kids. Less than 1 percent of the violence committed among kids occurs in school. Most of it occurs after school, between the hours of 3:00 and 8:00 in the evening. That's why we need good after-school programs. Vice President Gore has come out with a solid plan to fund after-school programs in our schools. That's where we need the help and the support. Bush has nothing to offer there.

KASICH: But, Senator Harkin, if you take some of these public schools, even assume for a second they're safe, which in many cases they are not, what we're finding is class size goes down. The number of dollars committed to education goes up, yet our children are not performing. We're testing 16th out of 21 nations. In the world in science and in math, we're in 19 out of 21. You say if Americans want to send their children to private schools, they should be able to. Most Americans can't afford to do it. So if they're not safe and they're not learning, why shouldn't we allow parents to have the dollars and the resources to be able to have choice just like rich people do? Why would you oppose that in this kind of a situation?

HARKIN: Well, see, that argument is basically abandoning our public schools. I believe that we have to invest in our public schools by, first of all, starting early in life. You just missed what I just said about starting with universal preschool for all our kids, not just rich kids, but for all kids. Secondly, we do have to reduce class sizes. Al Gore has a program and a plan to reduce class sizes. We know that that helps. Third, we have to get better qualified teachers, and we have to pay our teachers more.

You know, when I was a kid in grade school, and maybe when you -- I don't know how old you are right now. But when I was in grade school, all the elementary school teachers were women, because they hadn't -- they had no other place to go. They were either teachers or nurses. Today, women have a lot more choices. We're now beginning to find out just exactly what the marketplace is worth, what the market demands in terms of pay for teachers. We're going to have to pay our teachers more if we want the best teachers.

Lastly, we want accountability. But we want accountability in a way that says to teachers and especially those that administer the schools that we're going to make your school better, and we're going to invest in those schools to make sure that our kids learn better, that we have tighter test scores and better tests, and that we have qualified teachers.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Let say hello to Lynne Cheney.

Lynne, good to have you back on CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us.

LYNNE CHENEY, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NATL. ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES: Hi, Bill.

PRESS: How are you doing? CHENEY: I am good, how are you?

PRESS: I am doing great, Lynne.

Now, you know that the voucher programs have been tried in different parts of the country already, and there are some problems with them. Now let's be honest about some of these problems. Now let's take Milwaukee, which most people cite as the best success. In Milwaukee, one third of the private schools that are participating in the voucher program are not agreeing to the terms of the program. They want to put restrictions on the students that they're accepting, either they'll only accept Catholic students or they'll only accept students that live in that particular parish. Why should we be giving public tax dollars to schools that pick and choose, Lynn?

CHENEY: Bill, you're down lost in the weeds. I mean, the big issue is, everybody ought to have the right to send his or her child to the school that that child -- the parent thinks is best for him or her to attend. Al Gore does that what for his kids. While Al Gore's kids attend one of the poshest, most elite private schools in Washington, the Clinton/Gore administration vetoes a bill that would allow kids in the District of Columbia schools, where some of the poorest, most disadvantaged kids in the nation are, that would prevent them from having the same kind of choice. This seems know a great hypocrisy on the part of the Democrats, to deny choice to kids when people like Al Gore and Bill Clinton have a choice to send their kids to private school.

PRESS: Now, Lynne, that's great CROSSFIRE tactic of not answering the question, instead attacking Al Gore. I am not lost down in the weeds. What we're seeing here is that these are schools, because they're private schools, that could pick and choose, and that's their right, and that's what's good about private schools. I went to Catholic School, too. But why should public dollars go to schools that don't accept all students? That's just the exact opposite of what public education ought to be all about, Lynne, you know that.

CHENEY: This is one instance you're citing. Frankly, I don't even know that this is the case, Bill, though I trust I should trust you, having worked with you all of those years, right?

PRESS: I got my research right.

CHENEY: But in fact, the typical choice program I am aware of runs on a lottery system. There is so much demand for private schools once you give people a means for affording it that some way of choosing has to be put in place. It seems to me that the fairest way is a lottery system, and that's what many choice plans are doing. That's what I would certainly support.

PRESS: Now let me just mention one other problem that people like maybe to ignore, but in the city of Cleveland, a federal judge and in the state of Florida last week, a state judge said, those voucher programs are on their face unconstitutional because you have public dollars going to religious schools. Isn't that the fundamental flaw in the voucher system that you will never, never, never overcome -- and shouldn't?

CHENEY: It is not the flaw in the voucher system. The judges are simply wrong. You can't take a ruling by the judiciary and say that it's correct, otherwise we'd still perhaps have segregated schools. Do you remember all of those issue years when the judiciary said segregated schools were OK? Judges do make mistake. These judges have made a mistake. There should be no more prohibition against little kids attending a private school, even if it has a religious affiliation, than there is against college students who have federal funding attending a college or university that has a religious affiliation. If you're going to shut down voucher programs, maybe you'd have to shut down Notre Dame. It seems to me that we've already come to that bridge and crossed it, and that that's a very weak argument against vouchers.

KASICH: Well, Senator Harkin, let me follow up on a point that Lynne Cheney made. Why is it that the liberal politicians like Bill Clinton, like Al Gore, like Senator Ted Kennedy, they send their kids to the private schools. They talk about how great the public schools are, but yet they don't put their kids in the public school. They've got the resources to send their kids to a private school, but a poor family living in D.C. doesn't have those resources.

I mean, isn't that really very hypocritical for a politician to promote one system, yet take his kids and put them in the private system where they can be more secure and get a better education?

HARKIN: Well, at least as I understand it. They weren't using public moneys to do so. They were using their own private money to do so...

KASICH: So, the people don't have the money...

HARKIN: That's fine.

KASICH: ... should they solely be...

HARKIN: I want to point out that -- I'm sorry.

KASICH: Should this -- should -- that means school choice should only be available to rich people and that middle class and poor people ought to be shut out of choice?

HARKIN: No, I think the answer is...

KASICH: I think that you're suggesting here...

HARKIN: I think -- I think the answer is to make sure that our public schools are the best. I for example, my wife and I send both of our kids through public schools. Guess where? Fairfax County, Virginia, some of the best schools in the nation, why? Because a lot of rich people live there. And they have high property taxes, they put a lot of money into their schools.

Twelve miles away in the shadow of the capital of the United States, kids are in decrepit schools. I go down and read to a kid every week in one of those schools. There terrible schools. Why? Because they live in a poor area with low property taxes.

CHENEY: Oh, Senator Harkin, that's simply wrong.

HARKIN: John Kasich, John Kasich I want you to tell me...

CHENEY: That's simply wrong.

HARKIN: I want you to tell me where in the Constitution of the United States does it say...

CHENEY: Senator Harkin, the District of Columbia schools...

HARKIN: ... that our public schools should be funded by property taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: ... spend more per capita on each child than any other part of the country.

PRESS: Hey, stop, stop, stop. Senator, I wanted you to finish your point. OK, Lynn, go ahead. Just one at a time, please.

CHENEY: The senator has simply made a mistake. I mean, District of Columbia schools -- this is the perfect reason why the Democrat instinct to always pour more money into education is a failure. Schools in the District of Columbia spend more per capita, more per student than any of the schools in the country, and they are a failure.

This is a place where the schools need the impetus of competition. They need to have some choice for parents so that the schools will have a reason to get better. As it is now, they get more money whether they get better or not. Democrats aren't very strong in accountability, and one issue is accountability is choice.

PRESS: Quick response, senator?

HARKIN: And that's why Al Gore has a good plan for accountability. I just want to point one thing out about these vouchers in George Bush's plan. The reason George Bush doesn't have a good plan for education is because I think the vouchers are symptomatic of his overall problem.

What does is he takes the entire surplus and blows it on a risky tax scheme for the rich and there's no money left for education. Now what I would hope is, I would hope that George Bush would engage in public debates with Al Gore on education. That's what I would like to see.

PRESS: All right, well I'd like...

KASICH: Just -- just imagine some of these poor people have no choice to get a tax cut so they could have the freedom rich people do, Bill. PRESS: All right. We've got the debate right here, senator and it's going to continue with Tom Harkin and Lynne Cheney, me and John Kasich on this side.

Now here's something revolutionary: what about going to college without ever leaving your home? What about going to college by just sitting in front of your computer? We'll talk about that idea when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Almost everybody agrees there's nothing more important than educating our kids, but hardly anybody agrees on the best way to do it or how to take advantage of new technology. For example, will the computer change the classroom? Or replace the classroom? And will we ever see an entire online university?

Big issues, big debate tonight with Lynne Cheney, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Bush supporter who joins us from Dallas.

And with Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa, a Gore supporter.

And sitting in for Mary Matalin on the right tonight, back by popular demand, Ohio Congressman John Kasich.

John, take it away.

KASICH: Tom, you have been pretty tough here on George Bush and his education program, but you know, he claims to be a reformer with results. And we look at the record in Texas, it's pretty astounding. First of all minorities have dramatically improved their test scores. All children have in the state of Texas. And he accomplished it by setting rigorous standards. He said it by increasing the pay of teachers. He's also said that there will be zero tolerance of violence in the schools. He's had a lot of programs and a lot of success.

The only thing I can figure out that Al Gore has done is cheer lead for the National Education Association, and in fact, the education analysts say that Al Gore doesn't even really care very much about results.

Shouldn't we give a lot of credit for George Bush in terms of what he accomplished in Texas? And frankly, I think his program would be great for the country.

HARKIN: Well, John, I'm glad you brought up the Bush record in Texas. Let's look at it right now. Texas -- out of the 50 states, Texas is 48th in the number of kids who graduate from high school and go to college. Wow, that's good. They're number 45 -- out of the states, Texas is 45th in ranking of their SAT scores. Texas has the second highest dropout rate of kids in the nation. And over 70 percent of those kids that drop out are minorities. That is a terrible record. Now, George -- I don't know why George Bush is running on education with a record like that in Texas.

KASICH: Oh, but Tom, you know, the improvements in minorities...

HARKIN: Am I right in my...

KASICH: No, I think you're not right, and I think...

HARKIN: Oh, my figures are right. I challenge you, John.

KASICH: ... and I think that Governor Bush is going to present a very aggressive...

CHENEY: John...

KASICH: ... record on education.

CHENEY: ... could I respond?

KASICH: Yes, yes, Lynne, you sure can.

CHENEY: You're absolutely wrong, senator about the SAT scores. It is irresponsible of you to compare SAT scores state by state. The education testing service people will tell you that because only a few people in your state, Iowa take the SAT, of course, you get a very high score. Because a lot in Texas take it, the scores tend to go down.

And what you're distorting, and this really I think irresponsible -- what your distorting is the improvement in SAT scores since George Bush has been in the governorship. You're also neglecting entirely his record on the national assessment of educational progress.

HARKIN: You can't have a filibuster, we got to move on here.

CHENEY: Why would you want to move on, senator? I think we need to correct the record. The governor's record in Texas on test scores is really quite outstanding and the national gold panel has recognized that.

KASICH: Go ahead, senator.

HARKIN: You also know that the state comptroller has launched an investigation of these test score improvements. There's a lot of allegations of cover-ups that kids are being taken out and classified so that they don't have to take these tests. So I'd hold my breath if I were you...

PRESS: Let me -- let me get some good news...

CHENEY: I am really disappointed in you, senator.

PRESS: I think we're going to be debating in this for the...

CHENEY: That's really a flat-out distortion. PRESS: All right, Lynn...

CHENEY: There is one district in Texas where there has been some question about the test scores.

PRESS: Lynn, let me...

CHENEY: For you to imply this is a statewide problem is simply not correct.

PRESS: Let me move on here Lynn with this...

HARKIN: It is a problem and there's allegations of very serious mismanagement.

CHENEY; Well, you're making them, senator.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: There's two candidates for vice president?

PRESS: All right. Lynne Cheney, I want to jump in here and move on to related issue because you mentioned money a little earlier. And I -- look, I agree. I am a Democrat but I agree throwing money at a problem is not the solution, but you know, a little bit more money helps. I want to show you the comparison between the Bush plan and the Gore plan when it comes to spending for education, here are the numbers: for what Vice President Gore proposes is spending $115 billion over ten years. The Bush plan, which he has put out there is 5.5 billion over five. Now let's just compare five to five. Bush is down to 57 billion for five years. That's still over 10 times -- Gore is rather -- Gore would spend over 10 times what Vice President Bush would. That means -- that's a big difference. That's a big help for schools, Lynne.

CHENEY: You're right.

PRESS: Why doesn't Bush put his money where his mouth is?

CHENEY: Well, he has put a significant amount of money where his mouth is.

But let me get back to that crucial issue.

PRESS: Five and a half, Lynne.

CHENEY: Bill, throwing money at education is not the solution. The Clinton/Gore administration has thrown billions of dollars at education over the last eight years, and do you know to what result? Seventy percent of the kids in the highest poverty schools still can't read in fourth grade at a basic level. They have thrown billions of dollars at this problem over the past eight years. Reading scores have remained stagnant. Math scores have been basically stagnant. As John pointed out, we're last -- we outrank only two nations in our math ability among 12th graders.

PRESS: We have to move along, because we don't have...

CHENEY: You have to target the money and think about how to spend it, not just pour it into the schools.

PRESS: OK, don't have a lot of time here.

I just want to show you what someone on the ground says to that response. And this is the principal of the high school where George Bush went today, Central High School in Little Rock. Bush walked out the door. Here's what the principal said about that: "That's one of those pie-in-the-sky, hopeful kind of things we've existed on for years and years. All those catch phrases are horses that are not going to trot anymore. I want something very tangible in place that would be encouraging to those of us who have to carry the ball." He's talking about more money, Lynne Cheney.

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: Well, let me respond, Bill, by quoting Congressman George Miller, who was a colleague in the Congress of Senator Harkin. He sits on the House Education Committee. He says, "I sit on the House Education Committee, and I have witnessed the failure of this administration and Al Gore to do enough to address our nation's education needs." Now, I think that we can match quote for quote here easily. What we need to look at is the record.

KASICH: Lynn, thank you.

PRESS: Quick final word.

HARKIN: I just think the bottom line is that the Republican Party has in its platform to abolish the Department of Education. I think that's enough said about where they're coming from.

PRESS: All right, Senator Harkin and Lynne Cheney, we are out of time. I'm sorry. It's great to have you both back on CROSSFIRE.

Thank you very much for joining us from Des Moines, Senator Harkin. And Lynne, thank you for joining us from Dallas.

We never got to that online university. But John Kasich, and I will battle that out in our closing comments, coming up next. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: You know, it'll be very interesting to see if the man that invented the Internet is going to come out for online education and cut the costs of college education. The other point, Bill, though, is the greatest civil...

KASICH: What's so good about it?

KASICH: We'll, I'll tell you, it's going to provide competition. College costs are through the roof. Mothers and fathers can't afford it. We're pouring so much federal money in there, and the universities just keep raising tuition. College is becoming unaffordable for too many Americans.

PRESS: Well, you know, I am a great computer person. I use it a lot. I think it's going to revolutionize education. And I am not totally opposed to this online university. I think it's very interesting, but where do you -- how do you meet the girls, John? There is some value to going to the campus. There is some value to meeting other kids. There's some value to getting 3,000 miles away from home, right? What do you do about that?

KASICH: Well, there's all kind of ways to meet people, Bill, and I think that it's going to cut the costs and make education affordable, so you will be able to hang out in a little better places.

One other point, greatest civil rights of the 21st century, school choice. And you know what? Those who fight for it shall overcome.

PRESS: The greatest issue is education. And you don't help public schools, you don't save public schools by taking money out of public schools, like the voucher does. You save them by putting more money back in, John Kasich.

Good to have you here.

KASICH: Thank you.

PRESS: We'll continue the debate.

From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have a good weekend.

KASICH: And from the Right, I am John Kasich. Have a good weekend and join us again next week for another exciting edition of CROSSFIRE.

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