Friday, December 19, 2008

Berkowitz goes one-on-one with Obama on School Vouchers-School Choice: Change we can believe in?

As we discussed recently with Bill O’Reilly [Go here to watch], about six and one half years ago, then State Senator Barack Obama told Berkowitz he was focused on electing Rod Blagojevich as Governor of the state of Illinois.

In that same show, Senator Obama said he was open to being persuaded that kids would be made better off by parents having a school voucher-school choice. And, if Obama were so persuaded, he would support vouchers. If you watched the whole discussion, it seemed like Obama anticipated a great debate. Theory, data and argument. Trial and error. A number of years. And, Obama was to be in the thick of it.

Then, a year later, the debate was over. Obama changed. He said he did not “believe in school vouchers,” but he did support charter schools. What caused Obama to change his mind? Or, did he close his mind? Obama said we shouldn’t be didactic about these issues? Did he become so? What does Obama believe this week? A week in which he chose a Secretary of Education for his cabinet: Arne Duncan. Did Obama pick a reformer? To be continued.
From June 27, 2002 episode of Public Affairs:

State Senator Barack Obama (D-Chicago): And, I am also willing to say that I am not close minded on this issue [School Vouchers-School Choice] 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?

Barack 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--

Jeff Berkowitz: Then you would support it.

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

Jeff Berkowitz: Including school vouchers, if you are persuaded?

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

Jeff Berkowitz: Quite a concession. I am going to quit while I am ahead....
From July 25, 2003 episode of Public Affairs

Jeff 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]?

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

Jeff Berkowitz: You have to do it for a minute or two.

Barack Obama: How much time do we have?

Jeff Berkowitz: Two minutes.

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

Jeff 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?

Barack 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. And, 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 the props--with the vouchers

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

Barack Obama: I have done the backpack thing, Jeff [Big Laugh].

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. $18,000 that I could spend at a school [of my choice for two kids]. You don't want to do that for me?

Barack Obama: Jeff, Jeff

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

Barack Obama: We are going to get in this debate again. As I have said before, I believe that the voucher program is, although I think 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 teach 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. I think we can initiate…

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, they don’t give choice; they don’t give choice. You and I agree on that.

Barack 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 -

Jeff Berkowitz: [Holding up the $18,000 voucher backpack for two kids]. This is an option: $18,000. $18,000; School of your choice.
Barack Obama: But the point is--

Jeff 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...
Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz, (C) 2008; Please do not quote without the approval of Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs,"; Contributing Correspondent, Illinois Channel; and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at *************************************************************
"Public Affairs," is a weekly political interview show airing in Chicago on CANTV, in the Chicago metro area, Aurora and Rockford on Comcast and also often on the Illinois Channel. You can watch the shows, including archived shows going back to 2005, here.
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page include shows with Cook County Cmsr. Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) on the mess we call Illinois politics, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), State Senator Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont), Cook County Commissioner and possible 5th CD Dem. Primary candidate Mike Quigley (D-Lakeview), State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Cook County Cmsr. and Obama Media Team Member Forrest Claypool and much more.