PRESIDENTIAL DEBATEOctober 6, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dole, do you still favor eliminating the Department of Education?
MR. DOLE: Yes. I didn't favor it when it was started. I voted against it. It was a tribute, after President Carter's election, to the National Education Association, who sent a lot of delegates to the Democratic Convention, who give 99.5 percent of their money Democrat -- Democrats and the president. And a lot of the teachers send their kids to private schools or better public schools. So what we want to do is called Opportunity Scholarships.
Now some say, ``Oh, you're a Republican, you can't be reaching out to these people.'' I've reached out to people all my life. I worked on the food stamp program proudly, and the WIC program, and the school lunch program with senators like George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and others, to name a few of my Democratic friends.
I'm not some extremist out here; I care about people. I have my own little foundation that's raised about $10 million for the disabled. I don't advertise it -- just did, haven't before -- and I try to do a lot of things that I think might be helpful to people.
Well, it seems to me that we ought to take that money we can save from the Department of Education, put it in Opportunity Scholarships, and tell little Landale Shakespeare out in Cleveland, Ohio -- and tell your mother and father you're going to get to go to school because we're going to match what the state puts up, and you're going to get to the school of your choice.
I don't fault the president or the vice president for sending their children to private schools or better schools; I applaud them for it. I don't criticize them. But why shouldn't everybody have that choice? Why shouldn't low-income Americans and low/middle income Americans? I'm excited about it. It's going to be a big, big opportunity for a lot of people.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me say first of all, I'm all for students having more choices. We've worked hard to expand public school choice. In my balanced budget bill, there's funds for 3,000 new schools created by teachers and parents, sometimes by businesspeople, called charter schools, that have no rules. They're free of bureaucracy, and can only stay in existence if they perform and teach children. The ones that are out there are doing well.
What I'm against is Senator Dole's plan to take money away from all the children we now help with limited federal funds and help far fewer. If we're going to have a private voucher plan, that ought to be done at the local level or the state level. But Senator Dole has consistently opposed federal help to education. He voted against student loans; he voted against my improved student loan plan; he voted against the National Service Bill; against the Head Start Bill. He voted against our efforts in Safe and Drug-Free Schools. He has voted against these programs. He does not believe it.
That's the issue. Ninety percent of our kids are out there in those public schools, and we need to lift their standards and move them forward with the programs like those I've outlined in this campaign.
MR. DOLE: I -- I'd better correct the president here. I don't know what time it is, but it's probably getting late. But I want to correct the -- all these things I voted against, they were probably part of some big package that had a lot of pork in it or a lot of things that we shouldn't have had and we probably voted no. I've supported all the education programs. I've supported Head Start. I think we ought to look at it. So I don't want anybody out there to think that we've just been voting no, no, no. Let's give low income parents the same right that people with power and prestige have in America and let them go to better schools. Let's not -- let's help -- let's turn the schools back to the teachers and back to the parents and take it away from the National Education Association.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, what's wrong with the school choice proposal?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I support school choice. I support school choice. I have advocated expansions of public school choice alternatives and, as I said, the creation of 3,000 new schools that we are going to help the states to finance. But if you're going to have a private voucher plan, that ought to be determined by states and localities where they're raising and spending most of the money.
I simply think it's wrong to take money away from programs that are helping build basic skills for kids -- 90 percent of them are in the public schools -- to take money away from programs that are helping fund the school lunch program, that are helping to fund the other programs that are helping schools to improve their standards. Our schools are getting better, and our schools can be made to be even better still with the right kind of community leadership and partnership at the school level.
I have been a strong force for reform, and Senator, I remind you that a few years ago, when I supported a teacher testing law in my home state, I was pretty well lambasted the teachers' association. I just don't believe we ought to be out there running down teachers and attacking them the way you did at the Republican convention. I think we ought to be lifting them up and moving our children forward.
And let me just say, that budget you passed that I vetoed would have cut 50,000 kids out of Head Start. It would have eliminated the Americorps plan. And it would have cut back on student loans and scholarships. Now, it would have. That's a fact. That's one of the big reasons I vetoed it. We need to be doing more in education, not less.
MR. DOLE: Well, the Americorps program, I must say, if that's one of your successes, I wouldn't speak about it too loudly. It's cost about $27,000 to pay people to volunteer. We've got four million young people volunteering every year. The number hasn't gone down. And you pick out 20,000, whether they need the money or not, they get paid for volunteering. I like young people. I like teachers. I'm a product of public schools. You attended a private school for some time in your life. I like teachers, but let's -- you're not for school choice. You can't be for school choice, because this is that special interest money again. When you get 99.5 percent of the money -- we don't know what happened to the other .5 percent; we're looking for it; somebody got it. But it all went to Democrats, and this is part of that liberal establishment -- one of those liberal things that you just can't do.
You're for school uniforms and curfews, and you're opposed to truancy. Now, that's not reform, Mr. President. Why can't Landell Shakespeare in Cleveland or Pilar Gonzalez in Milwaukee give their children an opportunity to go a better school. Some schools aren't safe. Some schools aren't even safe. And your choice is nothing. Let's give them a real choice, the kind of choice you have and the kind of choice a lot of people have in America. If we want to stop crime and teen-age pregnancy, let's start with education.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, Senator Dole, let's set the record straight. I was able for two years when I was a very young boy to go to a Catholic school, but I basically went to public schools all my life.
And I've worked hard for a long time to make them better. Ninety percent of our kids are there.
It's amazing to me, you are all for having more responsibility at the local level for everything except schools. Where we don't have very much money at the federal level to spend on education, we ought to spend it helping the 90 percent of the kids that we can help. If a local school district in Cleveland, or anyplace else, wants to have a private school choice plan, like Milwaukee did, let them have at it. I might say the results are highly ambiguous.
But I want to get out there and give a better education opportunity to all of our children, and that's why I vetoed the budget that you passed with $30 billion in education cuts. It was wrong.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And my plan for the future's better.