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Special Event

George W. Bush Delivers Address on Education

Aired March 30, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush is delivering a major address on education.

We'll take that live now.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... What do you think we ought to teach you to read? And one kid raised his hand and said, well, what do the smart kids read?

You see, educational excellence starts with people knowing that every child can be a smart child.

Secondly, those of us at the table know that reform comes from the bottom up. And, therefore, we've got a line of authority and responsibility at the local level. It's impossible for the federal government to dictate reform. It's impossible for a centralized authority to say, this is the way it has to be, because, you see, one size doesn't fit all. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to educating the children in America.

You've got different issues, Governor, here in Milwaukee than we may have in inner-city Houston. But there's some commonality. Every child can learn. A good idea in Texas may end up being a good idea in Milwaukee, and vice versa. Tommy led the way on charter schools, which we looked at in the state of Texas, and now we have a charter school movement which says educational entrepreneurship is welcome here. We welcome your thoughts and we welcome your innovations.

We've got one of the great charter school men here in Michael Feinberg. Michael is the guy who runs Kipp Academy in Houston. It's a school full of children who aren't supposed to succeed. They've been labeled by people in our world as "at risk." They ought to be labeled as "full of potential." That's Mike's attitude. I've been to Mike's school. It is a charter school. It is full of love and compassion and concern. And guess what? It's the best middle school in Houston, Texas. Do you know how I know? Because we measure. Because there's accountability. It's that we test in our state and you test in your state, and so the cornerstone of much of the education reform movement has got to be to hold schools accountable.

If every child can learn, we want to know. Accountability systems aren't -- are not -- shouldn't be used to punish anybody. They're needed to correct problems early, before its too late. They're needed to say, we're meeting standards. And if not meeting standards, because we want nobody left behind, there needs to be change.

I know it's the cornerstone, Dr. Fuller of much of your thinking that if -- that in order to provide a challenge to a failed status quo, parents have got to be given choices, that there needs to be outlets for frustration, that if teachers need to -- are frustrated by the status quo there needs to be outlet for their creativity.

And teachers are really important. Teachers are the backbone of how we're going to make sure that our society achieves what we want. Teachers are going to make sure that the reading initiative I laid out, which says every child will be reading in America, every child will succeed -- Gail helped us to develop a very comprehensive strategy that said we want to make sure that when the accountability system starts at the third grade, at least in our state, every child was at the starting line. And so we have K through 2 diagnostic tools that will help us identify early reading problems so we can correct them early, before it's too late.

We've got intensive reading programs, schools within schools. I want the federal government to allow states to access money to take the same reading initiative to make sure all our children are brought up to par before we start holding people accountable.

We can do this in America. The curriculums have to be the right curriculums. The curriculums have to understand the science of reading -- phonics works, by the way. It needs to be an integral part. I went through a headstart program in Eau Claire today. Headstart is a program that we can develop into a comprehensive reading program, so long as the curriculum being used is the curriculum necessary to provide the building blocks necessary to learning.

Teachers are the -- are incredibly important. And that's why I'm going to propose at the federal government level that we spend an additional $400 million more per year to block grant back to states for teacher training and teacher recruitment, to make sure our teachers have got the skills necessary.

Teachers oftentimes lead with their hearts and wonder about their wallets. And our teachers need to be paid better. That's what the governor and I have done in our respective states. But we want our teachers to be trained so they can meet the obligations, their obligations as teachers. We want them to know how to teach the science of reading. In order to make sure there's not this kind of federal -- federal cufflink, the federal structure on programs, there needs to be flexibility at the state level. Tommy can address Wisconsin problems differently than we address Texas problems.

Secondly, I want to expand the troops-for-teacher program. This is a signal that says there are a lot of really good people that should be welcomed into the teacher ranks. Right now, the program is funded at the level of $2.4 million a year. It ought to be $30 million a year. It says that people coming out of the military should be trained and provided a stipend and encouraged to go in the classroom and teach. Senator McCain talked a lot about this in the course of the primaries, and I appreciate him bringing this issue to our collective attention.

Thirdly, there needs to be teacher protection act. Oftentimes, our teachers are sued under federal law for enforcing reasonably disciplinary standards in classrooms. In order to make sure our classrooms are safe, in order to make sure they're zero tolerance, in order to make sure that teachers have got an environment in which they can teach, we need to send a clear signal by passing liability reform that says teachers and principals and school boards can't be sued for reasonable enforcement of laws.

And finally, oftentimes our teachers come out of their pocketbooks to meet -- to meet the supply needs of students. Incredibly enough, our teachers around America are not allowed to deduct that contribution that they contribute money out of their own pay. I believe there's a national average of $400 a teacher to meet the shortage of supplies. And these teachers ought to be allowed to deduct that. I say, not only do we thank you for doing that, not only do we thank you for being a teacher, but you ought to be allowed to get some kind of deduction from the income you make if you make that kind of contribution.

So our vision is that every child will learn. Our vision is to expect the best. Our vision is to understand that to try to pick up the compassion of a charter school here that if it were done at the federal level we would still be locked in subcommittee. We would be trying to figure out the magic formula. See, our vision understands that it's people that make it all happen. And when we unleash the creativity of people and parents and teachers, that this country can achieve anything -- and I mean anything we set our mind to.

And so the goal is every child in America, every single child, will be educated and not one child should be left behind.

Thank you for giving me a chance, and then we'll begin the discussions.

WATERS: All right, that's George Bush in Milwaukee, outlining his teacher recruitment program, among other initiatives. There's been some back and forth between the Bush campaign and the Clinton administration's Education Department over these proposals. We'll get into that more with Senator Christopher Dodd, who's been monitoring the Bush speech and will join us shortly to take up the matter of the Republicans' campaign plan for this presidential campaign.

We are first going to hear from some teachers, who are talking about not only politics but what they need in the classrooms to improve education in America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Teachers have heard the talk before.

MIA MONTOSORRO, TEACHER: I'll believe it when I see it.

DIANE DOE, TEACHER: The money gets lost on its way down. LEFEVRE: Teachers consider with special amusement the so-called "education photo-ops." Some are legendary, as Dan Quayle's spelling class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN QUAYLE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And add one little bit on the end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEFEVRE: But most, teachers say, simply miss the mark.

ANDREA SCHNEIDER, TEACHER: I don't see people stepping into the schools very often to see what we're really doing here.

LEFEVRE: Nearly every urban school district already has some form of literacy program, like this language exercise in Mia Montorosso's (ph) second grade.

MONTOROSSO: The bus stopped in front of the...

LEFEVRE: The teachers say the most persistent problems remain: salaries and supplies -- not enough to live, not enough to do the work.

MONTOROSSO: I live month to month.

LEFEVRE: On $38,000 per year, about a fourth of what it takes to buy a home here.

DOE: The dropout rate is something like 70 percent in the first five years..

SAMANTHA GLICKMAN-SYZMANSKI, TEACHER: I was in another school for four years. And by my fourth year, I was the veteran teacher at the school.

LEFEVRE: A booming economy becomes a powerful lure to leave.

SCHNEIDER: My friends are all making a lot of money, and I'm not.

LEFEVRE: And what they have they poor back into the classroom, most say about $1,000 each per year.

SCHNEIDER: I mean, I buy post-its. I can't get post-its, things like that. We have a limit on copies.

DOE: I went out and bought, you know, several rows of pencils.

GLICKMAN-SYZMANSKI: The TV, the VCR, and then we bought an adapter so, you know, so that we can teach from the computer.

DOE: Take the lottery money...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second-largest super lotto...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOE: ... I don't see the lottery money. I don't feel the lottery money.

LEFEVRE: Educators say they're used to the flow and ebb of promises. They try to stay focused instead on the youngsters in their charge.

GLICKMAN-SYZMANSKI: To see the glow on the children's faces when they learn something, that's why I do it. I don't do it at all for the paycheck.

LEFEVRE: And they say America counts on that.

Greg LeFevre, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: We are joined now in the Senate gallery by Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, a United States senator, who's been listening to the Bush speech.

I understand that you don't think Mr. Bush is bold enough when it comes to education, that he is, perhaps, behind the times. Is that what you meant to say?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I just -- first of all, I want welcome him in to the debate. I mean, it's refreshing to hear him at least talk about education and talk about the federal government. For years, of course, Mr. Bush's party wanted to eliminate the Department of Education and, virtually, eliminate any federal role in education. So, I guess I should welcome the fact that he finely decides there is a role for the federal government, so I do that.

WATERS: Well, he did say...

DODD: But I must say...

WATERS: ... that it's impossible for the federal government to institute education reforms. So, in a sense, he's saying the same thing, isn't he?

DODD: Well, in effect, I was about to make that point in that I don't know if this is just a revenue-sharing program he's talking about. I don't know why they'd go through the charade of sending it here to send it back. Why doesn't he just admit what his predecessors have advocated for, and that's just get the federal government out all together. But obviously, that's not a politically popular position to take. And so, he's not going to embrace that. But in effect, that's what he's suggesting in his proposals. And I think it is worthwhile to note -- now, we welcome him to the debate -- but, if you're going to hire Governor Bush to be the superintendent of your schools, you'd certainly want to know, if he had been to superintendent schools in Texas, how they had done down there. When it comes to SAT scores, which is a national standard, unfortunately, the state of Texas ranks 45th out of 50 states. When it comes to raising your child, states, comparable states, Texas ranks 48th -- and by the way, when he become governor of the state, they ranked 29th -- as a place, a good place to raise your child. So if you're going to hire someone to be the leader in the principle advocate for education policy, you'd want to know what they've done in a previous position. And as governor of the state of Texas, unfortunately, Texas is way behind the rest of the country.

So we welcome this rhetoric, but as Ronald Reagan would say, facts are stubborn things. And when it comes to Governor Bush, the facts of his leadership on education issues in Texas has been very, very poor: flunking grades almost across the board.

WATERS: Let me give you a few facts, Senator, and talk about education goals as set by the nation's governors back in 1989. Their goal number five was by the year 2000, United States students would be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement. Some states have done better. But as a whole, the nation ranks well below countries such as Singapore, Japan and Germany. What are we to make of that fact?

DODD: Well, it's a good point you're raising because this is no longer a debate about whether or not students can compete with each other in this country. In the 21st century, you are going to have to compete in a global setting. So, when those standards were set, they were very worthwhile and laudable. We haven't achieved them. But frankly, we've gone a long way in the last six or seven years. It was improving dramatically. I noticed that the governor -- they talk about reading, and talking about charter schools. Now, these are warmed-over ideas in the sense that there's nothing bold about them. There was one charter school in 1993; there are now 1,700 in the country. Reading programs, we've past that three years ago; assigned into law three years ago.

I welcome Governor Bush's endorsement of the idea. But to suggest this is something bold, a new initiative, I don't know where he has been, but frankly, that's been the law of the land now for a couple of years.

We need to do a lot better job in recruiting, getting dollars and support back to our local communities, giving them the authority to do what they need to do in our toughest schools in the country. We need not give up on them. We need to have a better accountability. You don't get accountability if you write out a check and send it to the state and say: I hope, by the way, you will spend this money on teacher training and teacher recruitment. Where is the accountability there? You never know where the money gets spent. So we need to be bold, we need to be aggressive, we need to be innovative and creative, we need to work as a partner in this. And nothing I've heard yet from the governor indicates -- and certainly, his record as governor of the state -- when you rank 48 as a state where to raise a child and 45th on SAT scores -- and now, you want to lead the country on education. Frankly, that's a record I would be -- I find very questionable.

WATERS: Let me take you back 10 years ago again. Goal number one for the nation's governors was to get children to school ready to learn. Hardly a bold idea.

DODD: No.

WATERS: And yet, and it was ignored at the time. But apparently, a good night's sleep, some good nutrition, and attention to disabilities, and the states who adhered to that goal found their educational standards rise.

DODD: Yes, they do. And I -- it's been a pitiful to watch states who, like Texas, go from 29th to 45th in the space of five years. One of the proposals that Governor -- Vice President Gore has is, of course, that early education program, starting out even earlier. And again, we're having a hard time getting support for it. Up here, the Republicans, who are controlling the budget process, don't support that. After-school programs, here we know all across the country what a difference it makes, if there's a good after-school program, using school buildings during vacations in summer months as 21st-century learn centers, as we called them.

To hear the Republican budget, which the president -- Governor Bush endorses, just cut by $547 million after-school programs, despite President Clinton and Vice President Gore's calling for a billion more dollars to establish 6,000 more of these centers, so that these kids get a chance to learn during the after-school hours, rather than on the streets being victimized or causing the kind of problems or getting into the difficulties, that every police chief will tell you occurs. These are the kinds of ideas we would like the governor to endorse.

We want him to be bold. We want him to be creative. We want him to join with us in these ideas. But yet, they offer no solutions on smaller class size, on improving the quality of our buildings and wiring them, so they are ready to train these children. Seeing to it that we have teachers, that are well-prepared, ready to learn.

In Texas, if you look at the education reports, Texas comes in 47th when it comes on teacher training and teacher innovation.

So again, I respect the governor calling for these things today, but I must tell you, if I was going to hire to be my superintendent of schools and what -- look at the job he did in Texas, I'd be very nervous about him leading the country on education policy.

WATERS: Senator, that's all well and good. But the teachers would tell you, as they told our Greg LeFevre in that report just before you came on, that the most pernicious and persistent problems are the same: salaries and supplies. They don't make enough money; they're using Post-it notes because they don't have enough supplies. They say over and over again that that's the problem. And all these education photo ops are fine and dandy, they say, but come to our schools and see what the real problems are.

DODD: Sure, I know. I have a sister who's taught for 37 years, most of them in a public school system in Connecticut. And that's just what she goes through everyday.

So we've -- the federal government is responsible for about seven cents out of every dollar spent on education. Ninety-three cents in education money comes from the state or local governments to support them. So the federal government has never been a major contributor financially. We can provide some national purpose, nationally leadership, national direction, vision, the kind of boldness we were talking about here. And certainly, states and communities have to decide for themselves whether or not they are going to make those kinds of substantial investments. We can offer the incentives to do so.

I think it's outrageous that my sister has to dip into her own pocket to buy pencils and paper and toilet paper for her schools. And she's had to do that over the years.

Connecticut, however, is doing a lot better today. We've raised teacher salaries to one of the highest levels in the country. And so, as a result of that, less of that kind of action is necessary. So, we are very sympathetic to what these teachers need and what these parents need.

But to suggest to them how you are going to send $400 in a block grant back to the state with no accountability at all, and then argue that somehow that's going to get down to the local level, you ask the teachers and the school boards and the principals and the superintendents, they will tell you: We've tried that block-grant approach in the past, and it failed miserably. Why would we take a bad idea and revive it again, when we know it doesn't work? We don't need old ideas that failed. We need bold, new ideas to make sure that our schools are going to be 21st century ready.

WATERS: It promises to be a long and vibrant debate. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, we thank you so much.

DODD: Thank you.

WATERS: Thank you very much.

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