Wednesday, March 01, 2000

High school kids ask Bush tough questions

And some don't like his answers

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Texas Gov. George Bush wanted to talk about taxes and education issues while taking not-so-subtle jabs at his chief opponent in the Republican presidential primary, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

        A handful of students among those packed into the Westerville North High School gymnasium Tuesday to see Mr. Bush had other ideas, though.

        After listening politely to Mr. Bush's stump speech, students peppered him with questions about what he would do to curb guns in schools, boost teachers' pay and provide health care for children. Two students asked him what he would do if China invaded Taiwan.

        Acting at times like a high school principal — he admonished student hecklers at one point to “zip it” — Mr. Bush used each answer to quickly segue back into rhetorical snippets from his campaign platform.

        “There is something greater than the law,” Mr. Bush said after one teen-ager asked him what he would do as president to prevent school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

        He said he supported instant criminal background checks on gun pur chasers and “enforcement of laws already on the books,” but he also said, “law-abiding citizens should be allowed to protect themselves and their families.”

        Students let out of class to attend the event at times filled the gym with screams and placards reminiscent of a pep rally before a big basketball game, which Westerville faced Tuesday night against arch-rival Dublin Scioto.

        But they mostly fell silent as Mr. Bush rattled off his ideas to raise standards in public schools and his proposal to give public schools three years to attain minimum goals or face a cutoff of federal funds.

        If schools fail to improve, Mr. Bush said, federal money should be taken away and given to parents, allowing them to send their children to other public or private schools.

        One student challenged his rhetoric. “How can we believe you if Texas has the lowest average pay for teachers in the entire country?” she said. “What does that say about your commitment to education?”

        “I don't think you're right,” Mr. Bush shot back, prompting boos and catcalls from the student body. “Hey, I'm not dissin' the girl. I just don't think her statistics are right.”

        Texas teachers on average were paid $33,537 a year in 1997-98, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Fourteen states had lower average salaries.

Bush, Gore win Tuesday primaries Continuing coverage from Associated Press.

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