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The "Inside Politics" Interview: Sens. John Ashcroft, Carol Moseley-Braun

Aired April 29, 1998 - 5:21 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, HOST: Legislation creating new education savings accounts, is heading to a House Senate conference committee. The Senate passed the measure last week, 56 to 43.

The key components: tax breaks for public and private school costs. More than $10 billion in education block grants to the states. And a ban on the Clinton administration's plan for national testing of elementary and secondary school children.

Joining us now to discuss the education debate, and its implications for this election year: Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Democrat of Illinois; and Senator John Ashcroft, Republican of Missouri.

Senator Ashcroft, how will the Republicans use the education issue this fall, and must you convince people your party isn't out to undermine public schools as the Democrats are charging?

SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT (R), MISSOURI: It's pretty clear the aggressive bill passed by Republicans would be a big mistake if the president were to veto it. Here we try to empower parents and local school districts, teachers, people at the state and local level where they know best to meet the needs of their students. That's a major philosophy. It's a different philosophy from the Democrats who want to reserve those decisions -- to make the decisions.

The report indicated that we would give block grants so that schools would have the ability at school district and state level; not here in Washington. We would give the decision-making power to parents with the savings accounts. This is a philosophic approach that says parents and teachers, school districts should make good decisions, and the federal government should help them make those decisions, but not make the decisions for them. We need to send the resource to them.

RANDALL: Senator...

ASHCROFT: The president would make a big mistake if he vetoed it.

RANDALL: Senator Moseley-Braun, how will the Democrats use the issue in the fall? And must you convince voters Democrats are against school choice as the Republicans are charging?

SEN. CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN (D), ILLINOIS: You know, I wouldn't be a member of the United States Senate today if the generation that had come before hadn't provided a system of quality, public education that allowed every child a quality education.

The issue now is whether or not we're going to maintain a quality system of public education or have one in this country, or if we're going to abandon the public schools and just allow people to send their kids or buy their kids the best education they can afford and not worry about what happens with everybody else.

I don't believe we can waste a single child. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and the big mistake, I think, here is pitting these issues against each other in ways that will leave a significant number of our children without educational opportunity and without a chance. We believe in choice.

We believe in parents having choices, but the question is whether or not we're going to use scarce tax dollars to support and develop a system of quality public education or siphon that money away drip by drip into a private school plan that will provide $7 a year to a public school parent and $37 a year to a private school parent. We don't believe that's real education support. It certainly seems to me to be just to be a real shot out there that doesn't address any of the issues that we have to address as a country...

RANDALL: Senator...

MOSELEY-BRAUN: ... in providing quality education.

RANDALL: Senator Ashcroft, the Republicans voted down Senator Moseley-Braun's bill that would have put a lot of money into the modernization of American schools. I'm told that the GAO says the 14 million American kids go to schools which are substandard.

Is that something which should be addressed?

ASHCROFT: Well, you know, we think the resources that are available to improve schools should be decided on at the local level. For us to lock up resources and say that you can only use them if you're going to modernize put a new roof on -- what if the school needs something different? What if they need to reduce class size. What if they need to hire teachers instead?

What if they need to wire the classroom for use on the Internet? Any time we start specifying that the funds should only be used for one purpose in Washington, D.C. and we limit the availability and access to those funds, we're saying that we know better in Washington than people do at the local level.

You know, the genius of America is not that the values of Washington be imposed on the people. The genius of America is that the values of the people be reflected in what they can do for themselves. So when we have block grants and when we stop these programs that tell schools what they have to do, but we send the money to them so that they can decide, I think we're advancing education monumentally.

RANDALL: Senator Moseley-Braun, it is no secret the Republicans have you high up on the political target list for this fall. Are you confident enough in your position on the education issue to use it as a driving force in your campaign?

MOSELEY-BRAUN: Let me say this. Education is my number one priority, but the fact is the Republicans don't want to tell people what they're really talking about is higher local property taxes. By saying they don't want federal support, dollar support -- we're not talking about taking away local control of education. We're just talking about a partnership, developing a partnership in which we put some national resources in behalf of the critical needs. And you're right. The general accounting office tells us there's $112 billion worth of unmet need just to get these schools up to speed.

RANDALL: But do you feel strongly enough about this to make it a key issue in your campaign?

MOSELEY-BRAUN: Education has been a key issue for me since I got to the United States Senate, both at the elementary and secondary level in fixing our crumbling schools, as well as restoring the student interest deduction for college students. I think it's the single most important issue facing our country today.

RANDALL: Senator Moseley-Braun and Senator John Ashcroft thanks both very much.


ASHCROFT: Thank you.

RANDALL: The debate will continue.

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The "Inside Politics" Interview: Sens. John Ashcroft, Carol Moseley-Braun

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