Thursday, June 03, 2004

Revised June 3, 3:30 am; Jack Ryan and Barack Obama, One on One, Who has the best moves?; Some common ground between Barack and Jack: two tall guys whose first names rhyme with each other and both of them graduated from Harvard Law School. Barack worked as a community organizer on the South Side for five years and Jack taught at a South Side school for three years. They both say they believe in the free market and they both have discussed school vouchers extensively on Public Affairs. Jack likes school vouchers, Barack-- not so much.

I interviewed Jack Ryan on school vouchers and gun control, as well as on other domestic and foreign policy issues, ten days ago. The partial transcripts of Jack Ryan’s interview on other issues are included in blog entries, below.

I interviewed Barack Obama on school vouchers, as well as on other domestic and foreign policy issues on July 24, 2003 and on June 27, 2002 [Somewhat coincidentally that was the day on which the United States Supreme Court blessed, so to speak, school vouchers]. We hope to update our viewers on Barack Obama by scheduling him for another “Public Affairs,” appearance soon, but in the meantime, I thought we would do our best to bring our readers a little One on One, on school vouchers, school choice—between Jack and Barack.

We don’t have Barack’s transcripts on gun control handy, but as Jack’s was handy, we included it with the voucher stuff. Also, it is interesting that Jack’s views on assault weapons seem to track closely those of the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman, whose May 27 column appeared after my interview with Jack Ryan [See, also, Dave Holman’s “Assault Weapons Ban Largely Symbolic,” May 27,] and various Wall St. Journal editorials on the subject over the last few years.

I have heard Obama say he thinks he has a better move to the basket than, in fact, he does, an example he gave in response to an invitation to list a weakness, I think. As to Ryan, I don’t even know if he plays basketball, but most tall guys do.
May 23, 2004:

Jeff Berkowitz: on guns, you are for gun control?

Jack Ryan: Well, what kind of gun control?

Berkowitz: Do you support the ban on assault weapons?

Ryan: Not in its current form and I’ll tell you why. Because it is so cosmetic. It is focused on what the gun looks like and because of that it is very porous.

Berkowitz: If you could fix that, would you?

Ryan: Manufacturers—

Berkowitz: Conceptually, do you support the idea that nobody really needs an assault weapon…

Ryan: We have to have a debate about what the definition of an assault weapon is. And so, if it is an automatic weapon—of course, you should have those banned. If it is something akin to a shot gun, no. Then the question is-- between those two, what is the correct thing to ban? That is what we have to have the debate about.

Berkowitz: Background checks. Do you support federal background checks with respect to people buying guns.

Ryan: Yes, before people can buy a gun—

Berkowitz: And you support closing any [gun sale] loopholes, whether it is a trade show, whether people are selling [guns] out of their van?

Ryan: Yes, at these gun shows, people can buy guns, as you know—but let’s do the insta- check system where you can immediately check to see if the person is a felon or is not stable enough to own a gun.
Berkowitz: You know, we often ask guests- Do they support school vouchers, school choice. We take this backpack—in the City of Chicago, we spend about $10,000 per kid per year. Put that $10,000 in the backpack and we ask [virtually] every guest, in this case, not just as to the city of Chicago [public schools], but how many failing [public] schools do we have in the State of Illinois?

Ryan: [I don’t know the] exact number of schools, but 400,000 children.

Berkowitz: 400,000 kids, across the state of Illinois—

Ryan: going to failing schools.

Berkowitz: You would like to give each one of those [400,000] kids across the state of Illinos, not just in Chicago, this backpack and give it to their parents and say, in the backpack is $10,000—strap the backpack on your kid; if the parent and the kid decide they want to attend the private school, then the kid goes there, the money follows the kid; out goes the kid, out goes the $10,000 to the school of the parent’s choice. If the parent and kid are happy at their current public school, they can stay [and the money stays with the public school], they are no worse off, right?

Ryan: right.

Berkowitz: You would follow that completely? You would happily accept this backpack—the 400,000 backpacks and you would give a $10,000 backpack to all of the kids?

Ryan: This goes to my point of who cares more about the least fortunate, and who really wants to make them, give them access, empower them, give them an opportunity in this life—

Berkowitz: Choice, that is your theme?

Ryan: Right, let’s empower them.

Berkowitz: You have faith in the free market, though—because they tell me, that is, the many guests who oppose [school vouchers] say, “there are not 400,000 slots or open seats for kids to attend private schools.” You think the free market would provide those spaces and those new private schools?

Ryan: Jeff, this is why this is the biggest civil rights issue of our generation. This is the biggest social justice issue of our generation. Twenty thousand children, last year, in the Chicago Public Schools, said I would like to leave my school under No Child Left Behind, and go to a successful, other public school and the public school said back to them, we have space for a thousand children, you nineteen thousand kids, go back into your existing, failing public school. Now, you know, we are an information based, knowledge based economy. What hope do these children have if they can’t go to a successful school? [Ed. Note, the fact that only twenty thousand kids in the CPS asked to transfer to another school does not reflect happiness among the 415,000 other CPS students. Instead, it reflects the fact that most of the parents knew the CPS transfer rules, in most cases, did not permit even the possibility of going to a better school—and to the extent there was a possibility, they realized they had almost a better chance of winning the lottery than going to a better school, so why should any of the parents with kids in failing Chicago Public Schools fill out the transfer application?]

Berkowitz: But, your point is, schools will arise; demand, as I say, creates its own supply; private entrepreneurs will come in [enter the school business] and they will be able to enter the school business; if 19,000- if 200,000- if 400,000 kids want to leave the public schools, you are saying the private alternatives will be there? Am I getting that right?

Jack Ryan: That will happen, we know what happens-- In a capitalistic economy, demand is only real demand if it is backed by money.

Berkowitz: So, you have to give people the purchasing power?

Ryan: If we give people the purchasing power, supply will come in to take care of that purchasing power; just like if you were a car manufacturer, and suddenly people had a demand for cars with real money behind them, manufacturers would make them a car. We would get them an effective education.
Interview with Jack Ryan," filmed on May 23, 2004, and as is being cablecast on "Public Affairs," this Week of May 31 on Comcast Cable in the suburbs and as will be cablecast this coming Monday night, June 7 at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21 through-out the City of Chicago. [Ed. Note. Berkowitz usually poses the school voucher hypothetical with respect to the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"); In Jack Ryan’s case, since he is a state wide candidate, the voucher hypothetical was posed as to all of Illinois. The average operating cost for public schools across the state of Illinois is about $8,000, not the $10,000 CPS figure, so Berkowitz should have suggested an average $8,000, not $10,000, voucher. Of course, students in the CPS would still get a $10,000 voucher, but students in failing schools in lower cost of living, lower tax areas might get a $6,000 voucher, resulting in an average voucher of about $8,000.

July 24, 2003

Jeff Berkowitz: Is education important to the African- American community?

Barack Obama: Education is very important to the African- American Community.

Berkowitz: How do you differentiate yourself from the other candidates on Education?

Obama: You know, I don't know enough about the other [Democratic Primary] candidates to know--

Berkowitz: Speak to me as if I were a part of your base in the City of Chicago. Speak to me as if I were a parent with two kids in the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"). (As you know, one out of every two schools in the CPS is labeled as a failing school). Speak to me as if I am an African-American and my income is $30,000. What are you going to do for me [about education].

Obama: Here is my only question, Jeff. [Laughter] Am I going to have to talk about [school] vouchers right now?

Berkowitz: [Laughter] You have to do it for a minute or two.

Obama: How much time do we have?

Berkowitz: Two minutes.

Obama: Can't we put the old tape [of our prior voucher discussion] on?

Berkowitz: Well, your views might have changed. Last time, you said you will do anything that improves the [school] situation and you were open to school vouchers. Did I get that right?

Obama: What I said was--I think that we have to consider every possibility of improving what admittedly is an intolerable school system for a lot of inner-city kids. I do not believe in vouchers. I am a strong supporter of charter schools, as you know. I think that we do have to innovate and experiment to encourage competition in the school systems. I also think that at the federal level (because most of these issues are state level issues)--at the federal level the most important thing that we could be doing, and you don't need to pull out your props--with the vouchers

Berkowitz: Hey, you have to do it. Everybody has to do it. Here is my [school voucher] backpack, right here.

Obama: I have done the backpack thing, Jeff

Berkowitz: But, you haven't done it as a Senate candidate. Here it is. It has changed now. We are now spending about $9,000 [per kid per year operating cost in the CPS]. It went up from $8,000 [per year per kid]. Here is the [school voucher] backpack. I am the parent. I am serious. I want to know. Barack Obama, could you give me that backpack? That is, $9,000 for each kid [of mine.] $18,000 that I could spend at a school [of my choice for my two kids]. You don't want to do that for me?

Obama: Jeff, Jeff

Berkowitz: [Berkowitz offers the school voucher backpack to Obama]. You don't want to take that backpack? I didn't think so.

Obama: We are going to get in this debate again. As I have said before, I believe that the voucher program is, although I believe that there are very sincere proponents like yourself, I think that the ultimate result of initiating a voucher program ends up being to, over time, not foster competition, but, in fact, to reduce the options available particularly for the hardest to reach kids because a private market system will not ultimately try to reach the toughest to teach kids. That's a debate that we have had before. What I do know is at the federal level what we can do on the education front is make sure that programs like "Leave no child behind," actually don't leave the money behind, which is what's happened with [President] George Bush.

Berkowitz: Well, that [No Child Left Behind] doesn't give choice. You and I agree on that?

Obama: That I certainly agree with. I think the notion that somehow these kids now have options if they are in failing schools when in fact they don't -

Berkowitz: [Holding up the $18,000 voucher backpack for two kids]. This is an option: $18,000. It is $18,000; School of your choice.

Obama: It is not true. Because the kids on the South Side of Chicago; the kids in King High School, or in Crane, or in other of these schools will not end up going to New Trier High School.

Berkowitz: They don't have to. They just need to go to a BETTER school [than their current one] and eventually there will be a New Trier. But it doesn't have to be New Trier overnight.

Obama: Jeff, eventually is not true. We can look at examples of -

Berkowitz: Look at where they are now. Why do you compare it with New Trier. I just want to teach kids how to read.

Obama: What I am going to compare it to, a voucher system that we already have in operation, which is the public housing system where we have a terrific voucher system called Section 8 and what has happened?

Berkowitz: No, it is not a terrific system.

Obama: Exactly, and the reason it is not terrific--

Berkowitz: is not because it is a voucher system. It is because it is not set up right. We could set it up right. A fully funded voucher [system] for education.

Obama: But the point is--

Berkowitz: Last time you said you might consider it [a school voucher system]. You are not going to consider it this time; that's a change...
Interview with Barack Obama on "Public Affairs," filmed on July 24, 2003, and as cablecast on "Public Affairs," in August, 2003.

June 27, 2002

Barack Obama: There is no reason why the market won't necessarily replicate the same imbalances that currently exist with respect to per pupil spending and performance. Now, having said all of that, I think this [School Vouchers] is a legitimate area for debate and I think it is going to be something that is going to be debated at the state level and the national level for many years to come and I look forward to the debate, and I am also willing to say that I am not close minded on this issue so I think everybody should go into this with the basic attitude that the bottom line is--how are we providing the most effective education for students at every grade level and every economic strata, and if we are doing that, then we shouldn't be didactic or ideological about how to best deliver that.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, I take that to mean that under the right circumstances you, Barack Obama, possible U. S. Senate Candidate from the State of Illinois, could support school vouchers and could even do so in your role as a state senator in the Illinois Legislature.

Obama: No, what you can take that to mean is that I am willing to listen to these arguments and see if there-- If I can be persuaded that ultimately kids would be better off, then--

Berkowitz: Then you would support it.

Obama: I would support anything that is going to be better off for the children of Illinois.

Berkowitz: Including school vouchers, if you are persuaded?

Obama: Whatever is on the table I think has to be debated.

Berkowitz: Quite a concession. I am going to quit while I am ahead. Let's go over to the Pledge of Allegiance. Yesterday, another major decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals...
Interview with Barack Obama on "Public Affairs," filmed on June 27, 2002, and as cablecast on "Public Affairs," in July, 2002.