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Special Event

The Voters Respond: A CNN and 'TIME' Town Meeting -- Part III

Aired October 3, 2000 - 11:14 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: "The Voters Respond": a CNN and "Time" town meeting. Here's Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. One of the key issues during this debate tonight was the subject of education, a high priority for both Al Gore and George W. Bush. Joining us now is Dan Goodgame of "Time" magazine. Tamala Edwards of "Time" magazine is going to be joining us shortly.

Dan, you heard both of these candidates outline their positions on education. You've been doing a lot of reporting on this. Were they both precise and accurate in representing their own views as well as the views of their opponents?

DAN GOODGAME, EDUCATION EDITOR, "TIME": Well, Wolf, I think they were precise and accurate enough as far as it went. I was actually surprised that they didn't disagree more. Education is one of the areas I know that your folks there in Tampa have been very interested in it. And it's something they have talked about a lot on the stump.

One of the boldest ideas in this campaign has come from Governor Bush, who has proposed a sort of national voucher plan to give parents whose children are in schools that are failing more options, that would give them a $1,500 dollar voucher that they could use either as partial payment for private school or they could use it for tutoring.

Now, in recent weeks, Governor Bush has backed away from using the word voucher. He's used opportunity scholarship. He's talked about choice. We've learned through our reporting that, in part, that's because the word voucher doesn't poll very well, that people have negative associations with that. They've been told by opponents of vouchers, members of the teachers' union and others, that these are going to draw money away from the public schools.

And so they have used other words.

BLITZER: You have probably noticed -- I'm sure you did -- that it was Vice President Gore who first spoke about the issue of vouchers, condemning the whole concept -- and Governor Bush only responding, and not even responding that much to it.

GOODGAME: That's right. And that was a surprise to me. I thought that he would come to the defense of his plan. He's got a good record on education in Texas. It's something, I think, that you could see that Governor Bush felt very comfortable talking about, perhaps more than he did in areas such as foreign policy.

And yet he didn't come to the defense of his own plan. Another area where I thought they would disagree more than they did was on higher education. And, in that case, as my colleague Tamala Edwards has written, neither player has played the part that they are assigned. The Bush plan on higher education, aid to parents and students, would actually deliver more aid to lower-income families, to families who qualify for so-called Pell Grants.

Now, this is generally -- a family of four would be an income of about $20,000 and below. Bush's plan concentrates on those folks, on the poorest. Gore's plan actually would deliver more of its benefits to people who are in the income range of about, you know, $60,000 to $120,000. It would allow them to take either a $10,000 tax deduction for tuition, or a $2,800 tax credit, delivering more of the benefit to the upper-middle class, to people who tend to vote in greater numbers.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, stand by. We're going to bring Tamala Edwards in shortly as well.

But I want to go back to our undecided voters, or persuadable voters, here in Tampa.

You heard this whole discussion about education. How did you come out? And please give us your name.

DIEDRE SCOTT (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm Diedre Scott from Tampa, Florida. And there was one huge thing that I heard tonight that was swaying me away from George Bush. And I don't like to hear that funds are connected to results. I understand that we have to have measurable results in the school system.

But I have personal experience here in the state of Florida how tying the public funding to those grades, those results, those measurable achievements is forcing the teachers to teach the students how to take the test in order to receive good grades, as opposed to teaching our children the critical and crucial skills that they need to succeed in their certain grade levels.

BLITZER: What's your personal experience? Tell us about yourself.

SCOTT: Well, myself, based on this -- my son is in fourth grade now. But when he was in second grade, a big focus that year was teaching him the template on how to write a paragraph in order to basically pass the second grade and help his school to achieve a good grade. And if he had left out one major component of that template, he could have failed both.

If it hadn't been for an outstanding language arts teacher that year, he wouldn't have succeeded. And it was a template. And based on the teachers in the large class size, we -- my husband and I just spent huge amounts of time at home in addition to everything else reinforcing this. He also will be taking another standardized test this year. And we're seeing the same thing.

BLITZER: So, do I hear you say you are now leaning towards Al Gore?

SCOTT: Yes.

BLITZER: You're going to vote for Al Gore?

SCOTT: I haven't decided yet. But I would say if I had to make a decision tonight, I would answer that yes.

BLITZER: All right, let's get another opinion.

What did you hear on this whole education debate? And tell us your name.

P.K. MOGLER (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello, my name is P.K. Mogler from Clearwater Beach. I'm -- on the education issue, no -- I'm not persuaded any way right now. I have got to watch the vice president to get more information. But I knew for a fact, in my county, that these -- all these young people, they don't have their own books.

They have to share books during school. They might get lucky enough to take one of the classes' home to study. But they don't have the supplies to teach them. So how are these children supposed to learn if they don't have the supplies to do it?

BLITZER: Should the federal government be providing the funds for that, or the local community?

MOGLER: Well -- well, I believe everything should get into it -- and, you know, the taxes, lottery, etcetera. But with our booming population, we are really are spending all of our educational money on buildings, I believe.

BLITZER: So have you decided who you are going to vote for yet?

MOGLER: No, not clear.

BLITZER: You still want to hear more?

MOGLER: Got to hear more.

BLITZER: All right, you'll be hearing more. We've got a lot more to hear about. You seem like it wasn't that long ago that you were a student.

TRAVIS ABERCROMBIE (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm still a student.

BLITZER: All right.

I attend the University of Tampa. My name is Travis Abercrombie. I'm 18. This will be the first time I vote. And, as I said, I'm an educational major. And I didn't hear anything that I wanted to.

They're talking about getting teachers, but how are you going to get teachers if you don't spend money to get the teachers. There are some states where garbage collectors are getting paid more than teachers, and I can say that because I'm in a teaching class right now and we've done research on that.

I don't understand how you can try to focus on the future if don't do that through education. And through education you have to get teachers. That just doesn't make any sense to me.

BLITZER: You're going to vote for the first time in your life this time around. Have you decided who you are going to vote for?

ABERCROMBIE: No, not really.

BLITZER: Why?

ABERCROMBIE: It's the first round. People talk a good game, but who knows what they have behind that. I want to hear more about education, and more about are they going to try to attract more teachers or with safety in the schools. There's a lot of issues that they haven't touched upon, and I'm just waiting until they do.

BLITZER: And as -- you reflect your friends, 18-, 19-, 20-year- olds other students here at the University of Tampa. Are they involved, apathetic, will they vote, won't they vote? What are your friends doing?

ABERCROMBIE: Well, honestly, I'd be surprised if any of them are watching this right now. No offense to CNN or anybody else, but they are more involved in MTV or BET or other programs. Nobody really cares about the presidential election until they get older, you know.

For me to be here right now, it's kind of weird because I really didn't think I'd get involved as much as I am right now because, like I said, no one really cares. But it's really important us and it's important to me right now.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Travis. I want to get back to you later, Tamala Edwards of "Time" magazine is standing by, she's in Boston.

You've been doing a lot of reporting yourself on this whole issue of education. What did you hear tonight, these two candidates say differently than they've said in the past, if anything, Tamala?

TAMALA EDWARDS, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, there were two things that were fascinating to me on this topic, Wolf. And that's to follow up on Dan's point, that, you know, the governor came here tonight to say, listen, I am not as Al Gore wants to paint me, an agent of the powerful.

And yet with education he let go a key chance to say, listen, my higher ed plan will help more lower-income people than your plan does. But more importantly, we saw on display especially on an issue like education, the big gamble that the two campaigns have taken.

George Bush came in and said the words like big government, liberal spending. People don't like that. Tell them that you're going to give their money back to them and let them make choices on education. Al Gore, on the other hand, has said, well, let me help you with targeted tax cuts and look at these incremental things that I want to do.

And his advisers always like to say, listen, in good economic times people, don't think about tax cuts. They think about the things that they can't do. They can't fix the schools. They can't save the environment. They can't fix health care. They cannot do that on their own. And what's interesting to me, listening to audience, is it sounds as though the Gore advisers might have been right making that gamble.

BLITZER: All right, Tamala, stand by. Dan, stand by. We're going to have to take a quick commercial break. A lot more to talk about with our undecided voters here at the University of Tampa. Our town meeting will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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