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Should Government Pay to Send Kids to Private Schools?

Aired February 20, 2002 - 19:30   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: They were on the teams that argued the voucher case before the Supreme Court. And tonight, they argue it on CROSSFIRE. Should the government pay to send kids to private schools? And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And states like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: After visiting South Korea, would President Bush now like to take back his words?

ANNOUNCER: Life from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, former independent counsel, Ken Starr, and Elliot Mincberg, general Counsel of People for the American Way. And later, Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York, member of the International Relations Committee and fellow New Yorker Republican Congressman Peter King, also member of the International Relations Committee.

CARLSON: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. It's the most contentious issue in education since busing. Vouchers, tax dollars parents use to send their kids to private schools, dollars that would have gone to public education. Dollars that often wind up in schools run by churches. Teachers' unions hate it. So do liberal groups, who call vouchers an assault on the separation of church and state.

For others, including many parents of kids trapped in failing inner-city schools, vouchers are the last hope, the solution to America's education crisis. Should public schools have a monopoly on public education money? Is it constitutional to send tax dollars to parochial schools? Those are two of the questions the Supreme Court is considering right now, in a case expected to help decide the future of vouchers. That's also our debate tonight.

Sitting on the left, Democratic legend Bob Beckel.

Bob?

BOB BECKEL, CO-HOST: Judge Starr, today in the arguments before the court, the Cleveland, Ohio voucher was front and center. Now, as I understand it, of the people taking advantage -- students taking advantage of the voucher system, 8 out of 10 never went to public schools. They were going private schools prior to taking voucher money and/or they had not entered the public school system. They were going into kindergarten, now opting for private school. So 8 out of 10 are already in the private school system. And yet -- so they're really not escaping. That's your argument. They won't escape this bad school system. They were never in it.

KEN STARR, FMR. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Talk to Fanny Lewis, African-American counselwoman from Ward 7, her constituents, and some of them were at the court today, want to be in this program and anyone thus far who has applied for the program has been considered.

Now because of the structure of the program, it is true that some of the parents started their children in K, but each year another grade has feathered in, in this pilot project. But the program is structured so that it's designed for low income people. A lot of these people are sacrificing and why are they sacrificing?

They're sacrificing because they want their children in a safe environment, where they can learn. And they're not getting that in a public school system that has profoundly failed. And I'm talking about Cleveland. I'm not talking about generally. I went to public schools. I believe in the public school system. I'm talking about the Cleveland system, which has monumentally failed. And these parents want something better for their children.

BECKEL: No wonder you were a court appeals judge at 37, but let me come back at you as a former football player here, trying to debate, and I'm a jurist. The fact of the matter is, can you say, judge, and you're an honest fellow, in this day of school districts across this country suffering from terrible budget squeezes, public school systems, can you really say that unequivocally that the use of vouchers is not harming public schools?

STARR: Well, they're in use in very few jurisdictions. And I think the real test is Milwaukee. The Milwaukee voucher program, which is supported, and this is bipartisan, Mayor Norquist, a progressive Democrat is a strong supporter of it. Howard Fuller, who's the African-American superintendent of public schools for a period of time in Milwaukee, an enormous support in the Milwaukee community, bipartisan support in the legislature has said it works for any inner city kids.

That's what we're talking about, inner-city kids who are in failing schools. It's worked in Milwaukee and it's given rise, by the way, to a lot of secular, independent schools. It has a dynamic. You know, competition is good. Monopolies are typically not good.

BECKEL: Haven't heard a lot about monopolies lately.

CARLSON: Mr. Mincberg, the Cleveland City School District out of which this case arises is a total and complete disaster. Nobody argues with that. 20 percent of the ninth graders, only 20 percent in that district, meet the basic level of competence by statewide tests. Only 33 percent of them graduate. The schools are completely segregated, more so than they were in 1973.

I wonder, this has been going on for generations, these schools have failed students. Where were People for American Way, or the AFT, or the various teachers' unions, that have all of a sudden swooped in, the minute the parents of kids in these schools have tried to do something about it, they swoop in and they try and stop it, take it all the way to the Supreme Court. Where were you for the past 30 years when the schools were failing kids?

ELLIOT MINCBERG, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: Well, as a matter of fact, we and many others have been there trying to argue that the Cleveland schools ought to be improved. Three times, three times, the Ohio State Supreme Court, no bastion of liberalism, has said that the state of Ohio has failed its state constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding and resources, to make the public schools work effectively in Cleveland and throughout the state.

So what's happened is that the state is defaulting on its obligation to fix the public schools and saying don't pay attention to how bad the public schools are. Look at this wonderful voucher program we have here for just 4,000 kids. That's not the way to provide equal opportunity for all. That's the way not to work.

CARLSON: Not only is that not true, I believe you know it's not true. As you know, it costs $7,833 per student to "educate a child" in the Cleveland Public Schools. It costs $2,500 to give each child a voucher, which that child can take to a private school. That is a massive difference. In other words, it costs more to send a child to a failing school in Cleveland, than it does to send him to a decent school.

MINCBERG: But the problem with that argument is, first of all, a lot of the private school tuition is subsidized by the church. In fact, one of the ways that this program violates the separation of church and state...

CARLSON: So the city makes money on it, in other words.

MINCBERG: Well, let me finish what I'm saying, is that it does that. But second of all, you're supposed average cost for Cleveland factors in costs that private schools don't have. Special education kids, who are the most expensive, can be and are excluded from the voucher program. Facilities maintenance isn't included in the vouchers program.

So your numbers don't work. It's clear that kids in Cleveland, in the public schools. aren't getting a fair shake. But furthermore, if we do need to provide alternatives, and I think we do, and we've supported them, through traditional schools, we can use charter schools. We can use magnet schools. Lots of choice alternatives within the public system. Why should we mess things up by taking dollars that ought to go to public school kids and have 80 percent of it, as Bob says, go to kids that have never seen the inside of a public school?

BECKEL: You know, one of the things that interested me about you conservatives is you keep picking out inner-city black school systems. The state of Idaho now, which is about 98 percent white, has suffered the third cutback in this school year alone because of mismanagement by Republicans, I might add.

Now in this Bush recession, we're now faced with the following. And that is that when you say, Judge Starr, that this lends itself to secular schools, the fact of the matter is in Cleveland, and Judge Souter raised this today, 96 percent of the people that opt for vouchers go to religious schools. If that's not a clear separation of church and state issue, I don't know what is.

Ninety-six percent, now where are the secular schools? Maybe they're in a trailer part someplace, I don't see them. But I mean, where are they? They're going to church schools is where they're going.

STARR: You know where they're going? They're going to where their children can get a safe and good education. It's really as simple as that. When you look at the surveys, and this is all in the record of this case, why are the parents sending their children to these schools? They're sending them because parents are involved. Parents are welcome in these schools.

BECKEL: Are there a number of secular schools that are private in Cleveland?

STARR: Oh, no, there are secular schools, but one of the things Ohio did, which has had a magnet type effect, is to create what we call -- Eric calls community schools, but which are called community schools. Those are created in 1997. And the funding, this goes to Tucker's point, is so attractive from the state of Ohio, that some of the secular independent schools became community schools.

Now think of it the other way. Do we want to tell parents you may want to send your child to a faith-based school, but you can't, because we don't believe in freedom in this country. We think that the establishment cause is so rigid and so wooden, that if you want a religious education, we're going to discriminate against you.

BECKEL: Most of the Catholic schools -- I've done politics in Ohio. The Catholics control an awful lot there.

CARLSON: Bob.

BECKEL: They do, they do.

CARLSON: The Catholics control a lot in that state? A little Catholic conspiracy going on in Ohio?

BECKEL: As a matter of fact, yes.

MINCBERG: You don't have to believe in conspiracy theories...

CARLSON: Bob does.

MINCBERG: ...to recognize that what Ohio has done, unlike Milwaukee by the way, is put an artificial cap on the voucher program. If your tuition as a private school is a penny above $3,000, you can't be in the voucher program.

Now how many non-religious private schools have tuition?

(CROSSTALK)

It's Elliot, by the way. But how many schools have less than $3,000 tuition that aren't religious schools? About one right now, because in fact, the program is structured in a way to make sure that 96 percent, in fact, this year it's 99 percent of the...

STARR: Elliot...

MINCBERG: ...are in religious...

STARR: Elliot, that is profoundly wrong and it's unfair. Every independent secular school in Ohio, in Cleveland, is participating in the program. And what would change the numbers dramatically is, and this is part of the program, if the suburban school districts would stop the obstructionism. If they would say we will allow children to come into these adjacent -- that are doing better for their children, if that would happen.

You know what would happen to your numbers? They would plummet below 50 percent. And that would be the end of the argument. They have chosen not to participate. Why? I think that's something that really should be posed to Elliot and Elliot's colleagues. Let's get the suburban schools to allow these children...

MINCBERG: And you know what? All the state would have to do, because it could do it in a minute, is to mandate it. It didn't.

STARR: Ohio does not mandate.

MINCBERG: It could.

STARR: They have invited.

BECKEL: Judge Starr, I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with you, but I like that suburban point.

Coming up next, now that President Bush has looked into the "axis of evil," is he softening his stance or holding the line? We'll talk about that next on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a peace museum there and the axis that was used to slaughter U.S. soldiers are in the peace museum. No wonder I think they're evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BECKEL: It was the axis of evil, not the access of evil, that President Bush spoke of as he visited the DMZ between North and South Korea. After an up close and person look, does the president still think North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, are they still the axis of evil? Have his words done some good or have they done more evil than good?

Our guests, two members of the House International Relations Committee on Long Island, Republican Peter King and in New York City, Democrat Gary Ackerman -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman Ackerman, the axis of evil: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Now they're not, as Democrats have pointed out, strictly speaking an axis. They're not a coalition. So what? They're evil. Everyone knows they're evil. They know their evil. What's wrong with pointing it out? Novel you defend North Korea, but tell me, why is it wrong for the president to speak the truth that they're evil?

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D-NY), INTL, RELATIONS CMTE.: Well, each and every one of them is evil. There's no doubt about that, but there's no relationship between them, except for the fact that Iran buys missiles from North Korea, which is a commercial venture. But certainly there's no love between Iran and Iraq. I think the president just misspoke. I think everybody agrees and knows that these are very, very evil regimes. No question about it. And the president is right about that part. His nexus makes no sense.

BECKEL: OK, let me ask Congressman King. When President Bush came into office, one of the first things he did was countermand Colin Powell by saying that he, Bush, did not support peace talks between South Korea and North Korea, the so-called "sunshine discussions."

And yet in Korea today, he says yes, of course, I support the sunshine negotiations. And yet, this is the evil empire up there. So if they were evil enough to not want negotiations back in January, why are they not going after them now? I mean, why all of a sudden -- I mean, let me get down to the basic point here. He's copping out, isn't he?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), INTL, RELATIONS CMTE.: No, not at all. In fact, I think he was entirely right in using the term "axis of evil." And as far as North Korea was concerned, what the president has said was that negotiations should go forward. They should go forward in a very tough and thorough manner, in a very practical way. So I see no inconsistency at all. The fact is the president...

BECKEL: Gary, he said he didn't want these before.

KING: No, he did not say that. What he said was, no, the president has always said, in fact, going back to July of last year certainly, said the negotiations should go forward. And he said he's willing to have the U.S. meet anywhere with North Korea, to have the talks go forward.

The fact is he felt that President Clinton and the prior administration was moving a little too quickly. Now that's something we can debate, but the fact is he never said we should cut off contact with North Korea, should never cut off discussions.

But what they're saying is they should be done in a very productive way, and by not conceding too much. And also, getting back to point of the axis of evil, I think it was very appropriate to use because there is a commonality of purpose, a commonality of evil. And just as Winston Churchill used the term "iron curtain" to talk about the post-World War II world, Ronald Reagan used the term "evil empire" to symbolize the 1980s, I think it was very appropriate for President Bush to point out that we are in a different world. And even though countries may not actually have treaties aligning them together, the fact is they can still be an axis.

CARLSON: OK. Now, Mr. Ackerman...

ACKERMAN: OK, here's -- Tucker, here's the problem. This is -- we're debating here a mala Bushims. This is nothing to do with the issue. He used the wrong word here, but the real problem is that both of them just said, was absolutely right.

The problem here is Bush has said everything. He's been on both sides of the issue. His policy is at conflict with himself, with the administration, with other people within the administration. And they've all been taken by tremendous surprise, as were the South Koreans, as were the Chinese, as were the Japanese.

All are in a state of shock over this. And the president is talking tough. And that's fine. But he has no policy. He is using his moral repugnance as a policy. That's not a policy. What do you do?

CARLSON: And not only is it a policy, it works. And I want to give you two examples. And you're right to say that the nations of the world were surprised. And in two cases, so surprised, they acted.

Iraq this week, Tariq Azziz, deputy prime minister told a German newspaper that Iraq would consider, after all, allowing weapons inspectors in to supervise its weapons programs. In Iran, the government there announced it had detained 150 suspected al Qaeda members.

So when George W. Bush, in the State of the Union, called these countries members of the axis of evil, they were afraid. They responded in a positive way. It was an effective policy, was it not?

ACKERMAN: No, absolutely not. First of all, North Korea is not Iraq. And secondly, what are you going to do in Iraq, send in Hanz (ph) blitz and have him declare everything is kosher and there's no weapons of mass destruction and no nuclear program? That's absolutely absurd.

We have to have a policy over there. And there is no policy. The president's policy, right now, is one of talking tough and expressing moral indignation. And that is not going to get the North Koreans to the table. You're absolutely right. He walked away when the administration came into power from the four party talks between the two Koreas, us, and China and ended that. And then he had to back away from that position to try to get back to the table.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: The fact is that the president does have a clear policy. It may be complex, but it's clear. And that's why he has such incredibly high readings in this country and why the rest of the world is following him. As far as Japan...

(CROSSTALK)

ACKERMAN: The ratings are high because of his good policy in Afghanistan.

KING: No, Gary, the fact is...

BECKEL: Can I get in here for a second?

KING: It's right in Afghanistan. It's also right here.

BECKEL: No, there's nothing like talking to New Yorkerse.

KING: No, but using the term axis of evil, he's also putting the European allies on the spot, so they shouldn't continue dealing with Iran and Iraq. And as far as Asia, I think Japan and Taiwan, countries like that, certainly Koizumi in Japan, is standing by the president.

BECKEL: Peter?

KING: And his policy, Gary, may be certain people...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ...talk about, when in fact is, it's right.

BECKEL: Peter, let me ask you a question, if I could in slower language than you're using. Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, criticized the Bush administration when it came to Iran. You talk about a policy. The policy of the Bush administration towards Iran was to bring them in, be supportive of the coalition, which they were.

As Congressman Hagel said, they were helpful, cooperative, and supportive. And by the way, Iran offered twice the aid to Afghanistan than the United States did. Moderates are making great progress there. And in one line, to get a great bout of applause, which even Carlson could have gotten off that, he took a whole policy and threw it in the garbage. I mean, what are we doing? I mean, you move everybody along. And then all of a sudden you say, OK, you're evil? I mean, it's nuts.

KING: First of all, two things. Iran is trying to destabilize the government of Afghanistan. And secondly, Iran also, in just in the last six weeks, was found guilty of sending the weapons to the PLO, to be used against Israel.

So Iran is also speaking with two voices. What our administration is doing is dealing -- is trying to deal with the moderate elements in Iran with the time he was elected president. And in his -- if you read carefully what he said in his state of the union, President Bush did talk about the unelected few, meaning that we're still dealing with the elected government, and we're trying to work against the non-elected government.

And clearly again, this may be...

CARLSON: I'm going to -- I just want to get Mr. Ackerman in here very quickly in 30 seconds. What do you think would be a better phrase to describe this trio of countries, the axis of...

ACKERMAN: Tucker, don't sandbag everybody. It has nothing to do with the phrase. It has to do with...

CARLSON: It's the question, Mr. Ackerman.

ACKERMAN: The president has no -- the phrase is of no consequence. You have three evil countries is the phrase, if you want one. But the real problem is the president has no policy. Every time he talks about a policy, he changes it two speeches later. He has his...

(CROSSTALK)

... and it's very embarrassing to our foreign policy people.

KING: It's only embarrassing when people want to be embarrassed.

(CROSSTALK)

BECKEL: Guys, I'm from New York. Could you be quiet? We've got to get out of here.

CARLSON: If I can interject, the real problem is sadly, we're out of time. Thanks both of you very much for joining us. We appreciate it. We'll be back to talk evil some time soon. But next, we'll be back with our picture of the day. Why is this man on a milk carton? We'll tell you, and we will milk it for all it's worth. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: The wait is over. Time now for CROSSFIRE's pictures of the day. First up, have you seen this stunned looking man? He's Mike Bloomberg, the new mayor of New York City. And last weekend, he went missing, New York style, which means the city's two tabloids weren't sure where he was, who he was with for more than 48 hours.

Judge Crater, call your office. Come Tuesday, the crisis was averted when Bloomberg turned up safe and sound back in New York. Informed sources say he was vacationing in his house in Bermuda. The mayor himself won't confirm or deny. The saga of the lost weekend continues.

BECKEL: You know, Tucker, when I look at that, I have one wish. And that is that Bob Novak would be put on a milk carton. The difference is nobody would call to report him if they saw him. But you know, Bloomberg, I don't know why everybody's so concerned. Rich Republican, doesn't work on the weekends. What else is new?

CARLSON: Actually, Bob, I would say that Mike Bloomberg is a rich Democrat who doesn't work on the weekends.

BECKEL: Oh, you all don't claim him, is that right?

CARLSON: I mean, he is a Democrat. He took advantage of an opening on the Republican side. Nothing against him. You're a Democrat. But I'm just saying let's get our rich politics straight.

BECKEL: I don't have a place in Bermuda. Go ahead.

CARLSON: And finally, proof of the charge that politicians do indeed have big heads. The first President Bush and the former First Lady attended an unveiling of their son's bust, the handiwork of a Texas sculptor who has carved the heads of all 42 presidents. "I hope it will motivate children to be in public service," the 41st Bush said, "if not motivate them to go to art school."

BECKEL: I tell you what it looks like to me. It looks like a character out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I -- that would scare me away from Halloween, I can tell you that. That's not one you want to take home. Attracting kids...

CARLSON: I think it's a very, very handsome bust.

BECKEL: You do?

CARLSON: As busts go, yes, I do.

BECKEL: Good. At Halloween, you'll scare a lot of people with it. Try it out. All right, from the left, I'm Bob Beckel. Proud to be a liberal. Good-night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.

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