Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune Columnist and Blogger, pays off on his losing wager regarding the timing of the George Ryan Indictment and appears on "Public Affairs," to debate School Vouchers and school choice with show host, blogger and legal recruiter Jeff Berkowitz. Berkowitz and Zorn also discuss the "evolution" of George Ryan, the Democratic and Republican U. S. Senate primaies and whether the Illinois GOP is ready to be rebuilt. The show was recorded on March 6, 2004 and it is being cablecast this week in the suburbs and will air this Monday night, March 29, at 8:30 pm through-out the City of Chicago. See suburban airing schedule of “Public Affairs,” on Comcast Cable, in March 22, 2004 entry, below.

A partial transcript of the show is included, below.

Jeff Berkowitz: … The thing I have to say… is that Eric Zorn is one of the fairest people in discussing ideas that I know and where do they go to see your rhubarb patch where these issues are discussed?

Eric Zorn: Well, there is which has a very good discussion between George Clowes and me on this topic …

Berkowitz: This topic meaning this very discussion of school vouchers that we will be having tonight, and there are various other discussions [in the rhubarb patch], pro and con, for gun control, etc…The point is… Eric Zorn is a very fair guy…he is somebody who thinks about ideas- I think he is somebody who likes to carry ideas out to their logical conclusion. You agree with that?

Zorn: I do. Totally. Totally.

Berkowitz: I learned to do that at the University of Chicago. You learned to do that at the University of Michigan,

Zorn. Yes.

Berkowitz: Where you were a creative writing major, an English major.

Zorn: English major.

Berkowitz: But also creative writing…
Berkowitz: …The one thing that we have to thank George Ryan for is that because George was indicted [in Dec., 2003], Eric Zorn is here to talk about school choice and school vouchers… I have this backpack, which was nicely personalized with the name, “Public Affairs,” and provided to me by my [older] daughter and here is of course the real [larger] backpack. Now, the backpack has acquired a lot of symbolism during this show. Indeed, it has spread around the City [of Chicago]. …You know the topic of this show is “Free to choose, “ which comes from Milton Friedman [the Godfather of School Vouchers and Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics who taught graduate school economics for many years at the University of Chicago] who has written on that topic. In a free market, people are free to choose. Very simply put. So… that is roughly $11,000 per student [per year, being spent] in the City of Chicago Public Schools, on average. If you take out the capital costs, it is about $9,000 [being spent, per year, per student in the CPS]. …We won’t count the capital costs, we’ll take our $9,000 …and $9,000 is put in the backpack…so we go to each parent of every child in the CPS; if they have two kids, they get 2 backpacks, they get $18,000 per year…so how is that a problem?…

Zorn: What’s wrong with this idea? When I look at the [school] voucher idea, I see this utopianism on the part of people who are advocating this [idea]…
The World Church of the Creator, Matthew Hale, what if he starts an Academy… teaching White Supremacy, does my $9,000 send my kid there…

Berkowitz: In large part, you are given freedom to make mistakes, I think we can set up some regulations that would say when you are out of bounds. Matthew Hale’s school might be one of them…
Zorn: …Why are schools on the North Shore such good schools? Why are the public schools up there good?

Berkowitz: A variety of reasons. One, the kids get a better environment for learning.

Zorn: Where

Berkowitz: In the home…

Zorn: Okay, Good.

Berkowitz: That’s one. They have parents who, on average, read to their kids more before they go to school, at ages 0 to 6..,

Zorn: This has nothing to do with the schools, yet, and I agree with you and I agree with you on those points…you ask why aren’t kids reading in these [CPS] schools? Because their parents are letting them down.

Berkowitz: …I can’t change that.

Zorn: Why does the school change that?

Berkowitz: Didn’t you ever hear the saying, “Allow me to work on the things that I can change; The ones that I can’t, I won’t worry about…I can’t give everybody a good, family home with two parents who have time and are willing to spend time with their kids. I can’t do that and you can’t do that and we are not doing that in the CPS. I want to give people a choice to find the best mechanism to compensate for the fact that they don’t have that. Right now, we say to people—

Zorn: These parents don’t care enough about their kids

Berkowitz: Excuse me

Zorn: to read to them and you expect they are going to go out and comparison shop to find good schools. Why? What gives you that faith in those parents?

Berkowitz: If you worked two crummy jobs—

Zorn: Well, then, how are they going to find a school for their kids?

Berkowitz: It is lot easier to find a school than it is to spend two hours a night reading to your kids.

Zorn: You want to know why I am against school vouchers? It is that I think rather than it doing what you want it to do which is to raise the level of all of these kids—I think it is going to leave [behind] some kids, certain kids, kids whose parents aren’t on the ball enough to get them into the right schools. I think it is going to leave them way behind, it is going to—

Berkowitz: They are behind now. How are they worse off [under school vouchers]? Are you afraid—

Zorn: Because, take this baseball [Zorn picks up the baseball on the “Public Affairs” set table]. They may have a baseball at some public school now, but because Jeff Berkowitz has got to give his $9,000 to all of the kids that are going there now, and half of them leave—we don’t have a baseball anymore, it’s gone [Zorn throws the baseball off the set]

Berkowitz: No, No, Eric.

Zorn: You have taken away money for extra-curriculars. You have taken away money for—

Berkowitz: We are taking away [the tax revenue equal to] their operating costs [for each kid who leaves]. We are not taking the [the tax revenue equal to] their capital costs. Their [tax revenue equal to their] operating costs [for each kid who stays there] stays there. If it costs $9,000 to operate that school for that kid, and we take away the $9,000 for the kid who left [and there is one fewer kid who has to be taught], I don’t see how the school is worse off, because they still have [the tax revenue equal to] as much as they had to pay for their total capital costs, and fewer kids [and the same tax revenue to cover the operating costs of each kid who stayed]…
Berkowitz: …You keep worrying that this could happen, that could happen—do you understand that there was a school, Dodge School [in Chicago] that had 10% of the kids reading at grade level. Now, the CPS administration wanted to close it. I don’t know if they did—the parents didn’t want it closed because they knew that they were just going to send them three miles down the road to another school [a public school] that was performing as poorly [as Dodge], Nobody said to them [the Dodge school parents],”you have $9,000 and you can go try to find a parochial [or non-sectarian private] school. We respect your ability to do better than we did.” But, you don’t respect that, Eric.

Zorn: What is the parochial school doing? What is the public school not doing? ….When I talk to voucher advocates, I say to them—what is it that you think the [public] school is not doing? What is the school not doing that you think that the school should be doing? Why does the private school do better?

Berkowitz: It doesn’t even matter. We could study it forever.

Zorn: Why does the private school do better?

Berkowitz: We could study it forever, but the main thing is that [we know] it is doing something better because the kids are performing better.

Zorn: But, you have to look at the mechanism—why are the kids performing better? Here is my

Berkowitz: Why do I have to do that? If an auto company does better than another auto company--

Zorn: Because you want to basically rip down public education

Berkowitz: I am not going to rip down anything.

Zorn: It will, It will destroy it. This is something you want to turn into a private system. This is your whole thing of privatize—

Berkowitz: I am trying to help kids and you are trying to preserve a decadent system that is falling apart, that is not performing—

Zorn: Why is it falling apart?

Berkowitz: I don’t know. I don’t care.

Zorn: You don’t even want to perform an analysis.

Berkowitz: I didn’t ask an auto company when it went out of business why it couldn’t produce cars as well as Toyota. You want to go ask that auto company? Just let them compete.

Zorn: You see a house on fire and you say let’s privatize the fire department.

Berkowitz: I am not privatizing anything. I am giving the kids money. Don’t you care about these kids?

Zorn: I care about the kids.

Berkowitz: Not enough to give them any choice.

Zorn: You don’t care enough even to try to ask the question- what is the school not doing?

Berkowitz: We could study that forever. I want change now. It is March 6. I want change on March 7. I don’t want to make it better in 20 years.

Zorn: But, you are going to take these kids and put them into these private schools- what you are going to do is you are going to end up- you are just going to transfer some of these problems over to these other schools—these schools aren’t going to do as well

Berkowitz: No, it is working in Cleveland, It is working in Milwaukee, it is working in Colorado.

Zorn: Those are test programs. They are marginal test programs.

Berkowitz: They are all working. They are all working. You want to start with the whole program? Let’s start with the whole program.

Zorn: I will stipulate. You take some kids and put them into private schools—you give them money and put them into private schools. That will work. That will work. You know why? Because the private schools have more flexibility. We should give schools more flexibility. They have more parental involvment.

Berkowitz: It will cause more competition. Then the public schools will have to have more flexibility.

Zorn: No, that’s not true.

Berkowitz: Okay, we are going to continue to speak as the credits roll but I very much want to thank Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune columnist and once again where can they find your column?

Zorn: Chicago Tribune newspaper, itself; and my web log [Blog] is and it links to your

Berkowitz: to my [political and media analysis and buzz blog which is]—Eric’s Blog is very much worth reading—you will see daily entries there [as you will on mine] and you will want to keep up with it. Okay, back to school choice and school vouchers…Don’t you have a little concern that maybe you are wrong- that we should take this backpack, give people the $9,000, let them choose, maybe I an right, maybe kids will learn how to read and write and do better than they currently are. Or, we could spend a lot of time talking about why I think those schools will do better; maybe it’s the competition, maybe it’s the flexibility, maybe its the threat that if they [the schools] don’t perform, they know the parents will go somewhere else. Lots of reasons, Okay. But, the main thing is—Let these people go. Give them some freedom.

Zorn: The risk of doing it wholesale is way too high. My concern is not that these kids—

Berkowitz: Free at last, Free at last. Thank God almighty, Free at Last.

Zorn: Not true. You may leave kids in schools that are much worse off.

Berkowitz: How are they worse? They have more money per kid.

Zorn: Because all of the kids whose parents were involved—

Berkowitz: They could all go. Why would they stay [if the CPS schools were worse than the private schools.]

Zorn: Because their parents aren’t with it enough to read to them or teach them their ABCs.

Berkowitz: You have such a low opinion of people in the inner city.

Zorn: No, you are the one who agreed that they don’t even read to them.

Berkowitz: You have to get out more. You [almost] live in the inner city. You need to get out there.

Zorn: They don’t even read to them, Jeff. They don’t read to them, so you expect them to find the right schools for them. You are going to have these little inner city schools whose parents don’t give a darn about them who are going to bring down the level of these schools and you are going to leave kids behind and those are the kids I really care about.

Berkowitz: So, keep it the way it is now. It is doing so well. Two out of every three kids not learning how to read. Great. Don’t try anything else. This is so out of character for you. I am so disappointed.

Zorn: No, its perfectly in character.

Berkowitz: You are so much better than this. You are doing this just to give me a tough time.

Zorn: No, I’m not. I am absolutely sure of this. I know that what you are—[end of show].

Eric Zorn, interviewed on the Public Affairs,” show which was recorded on March 6, 2001, and is being cablecast on Comcast Cable this week (Week of March 22) in the suburbs and will air through-out the City of Chicago on Monday, March 29, 2004. See suburban airing schedule of “Public Affairs,” on Comcast Cable, in March 22, 2004 entry, below.