ABC's Cuomo Challenges Obama on School Choice

Chris Cuomo continued his "Meet the Joneses" series on August 27's "Good Morning America" posing some surprising conservative challenging questions to an Obama adviser. The third installment featured Barack Obama’s education plan and a Jones family concerned about their children’s education.

This particular family allegedly lived in a failing school district before moving and says they can not afford a decent private school. After noting Obama opposes school vouchers Cuomo paraphrased the Jones family concerns that they want the "choice" and "opportunity" and asked the senator’s domestic policy adviser what her answer is.

After Obama’s adviser parroted talking points about "mak[ing] an investment in our public schools" Cuomo followed up questioning why not "allow families like the Joneses to get their kids into a better school so that they don't have to go down with a failing institution until it's fixed?" Obama’s adviser then noted that Senator Obama supports charter schools.

The entire transcript follows.

CHRIS CUOMO: And now our series "Meet the Joneses." Forget the candidates' personalities. Lets put their proposed policies to the test for real families with real issues. On tap, education. This is the Jones family of Pennsylvania. Adell is a nurse. Steven a university administrator and like any parents their focus providing the best for their two children, 12-year-old Stefanie and 17-year-old Steven.

STEVEN JONES: I think across the country everyone wants the best education they possibly can for their families.


CUOMO: So when their kids were zoned to a failing public school they say their only option to find a better school was to move. Why did you feel you had to move?

STEVEN JONES: We're really interested in having our children go to college and we didn't see that a lot of those children were able to make it into college.

ADELL JONES: We looked at the private schools in our area. Some of them weren't doing good. Some of the Catholic schools weren't doing good. The schools that seemed to be doing well were cost in excess of $25,000 a year.

CUOMO: Sad on some level that you had to make this move.

ADELL JONES: It was sad.

CUOMO: So what would Obama do? Help the Joneses with targeted tax cuts that could save them up to $2,000 along with $18 billion in education spending funding reforms from preschool to college. And as for choice, so the Joneses wouldn't have to move to find a better school Obama supports public charter schools but opposes vouchers to help parents send their kids to private schools. The Jones family says, "the Obamas found a way to send their kids to private school. I can't do it. My kids are top students. They're good kids. I want the choice. I want the opportunity." What do you say to them?

MELODY BARNES, OBAMA DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: I say to them we want to make an investment in our public schools.

CUOMO: Why can't you do both? Why can't you invest in the public school systems that need it but allow families like the Joneses to get their kids into a better school so that they don't have to go down with a failing institution until it's fixed?

BARNES: Well, because we aren't asking them to go into a failing institution.

CUOMO: But they couldn't leave. They had to move.

BARNES: But there are also charter schools and magnet schools available to them as well.

CUOMO: Finding a new public school didn't take the Joneses out of the woods entirely. 17-year-old Steven, a straight "A" student is ready for college but his parents don't know if they can afford it. The Obama plan offers a $4,000 tax credit for higher education for families making up to $110,000 but that likely won't be enough. The nonpartisan Urban Institute has studied Obama's education plan.

JANE HANNAWAY, THE URBAN INSTITUTE: It will come nowhere near meeting the needs of individuals going on to higher education. It should cover most community college costs, unless, of course, community colleges raise their tuition.

CUOMO: How do you go after these private universities to keep the costs of education down? The costs of education are going up much faster than the rate of inflation. Why is this allowed to occur?

BARNES: College and university administrators would talk about the fact that, you know, they're trying to build the best, you know, science centers and the best teaching hospitals. But we also have seen a number of really innovative initiatives out there and efforts to try and make college more affordable so you combine that with the kind of resources that Senator Obama is putting into pell grants and that's a way to address it from the other end.

CUOMO: Still, education is a double-edged problem. It costs a lot to help families like the Joneses and it's also tough to get the money to fund changes. How can you pay for that kind of spending in this type of fiscal environment?


BARNES: The first thing I want say is how can we afford not to do it? The way he's going to do that, first, there is a savings from Iraq. That's about $90 billion a year. He's also talking about dealing with issues of earmarks and the issue around student loan savings. He's proposing a system that's less expensive for everyone.

CUOMO: Why is it doable now and it hasn't been doable in the past?

BARNES: I think a lot of that goes to will and I think a lot of that goes to leadership and that's the kind of change that Senator Obama plans to bring to Washington and bring to the White House.


CUOMO: That talk is certainly music to the Joneses' ears. They just hope it becomes a reality. And the Jones series will continue with McCain's policies next week.

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