Fact check: Gore claim of overcrowding at Florida school holds up
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Did Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore fabricate a story about overcrowding at a Sarasota, Florida, high school during Tuesday night's debate with Republican rival George W. Bush? The Texas governor's campaign spokesman says he did.
"This is another in a disturbing pattern of the vice president simply making things up," Bush communications director Karen Hughes told reporters after the Boston debate.
Sarasota High School student Kaylie Ellis was required to stand in an overcrowded science class, as Vice President Al Gore said during Tuesday night's presidential debate, but
just for one day, according to school officials
According to Bush aides, Gore's tale of overcrowded classrooms at the public high school was just another whopper. They cite the story as evidence that Gore routinely stretches the facts on the campaign stump.
Gore said he received a letter from Florida resident Randy Ellis about the learning conditions his 15-year-old daughter Kaylie faced at Sarasota High School. Ellis enclosed a photo of her crowded classroom and a local newspaper article detailing the situation.
"Her science class was supposed to be for 24 students. She is the 36th student in that classroom. She sent me a picture of her in the classroom. They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class," Gore said during the debate.
Did Gore make that up, as Bush aides say? Not even close.
The newspaper article included with the letter was headlined "No room in the school." It continued: "She has 36 classmates, all assigned to a laboratory that was designed for 24 students ..."
Gore's error was grammatical --- using the present tense to describe the student's predicament.
"It did kind of make the assumption that I was still standing," Kaylie told CNN.
Understandably, local school officials are upset with the Gore campaign. Wilma Hamilton, the superintendent of schools for Sarasota, said the district has enough desks for its students. Added Dan Kennedy, the school's principal: "It's a matter of not checking facts and verifying them."
Both officials said that Kaylie only had to stand for just one day -- and that Gore should have been careful. The Bush campaign agreed. "Under pressure the vice president simply makes things up. Now, the president of the United States cannot do that," Hughes argued.
But school officials concede that other students also did without desks -- for days and weeks. In fact, the school district is still struggling with $17 million budget cut after local voters refused to approve a tax increase.
"I need to have smaller classes to learn better," Kaylie argued.
But there's also an irony here. Despite budget troubles, Sarasota High School is already one of the richest in Florida, boasting its own Web site and a television studio that the schools say rivals "any network facility."
And it remains unclear whether the added education spending Gore has proposed would actually ever reach the school. Its budget of nearly $8.7 million includes less than $27,000 in federal aid, set aside for gifted and disabled students.
So the Bush camp may have missed an opportunity to criticize Gore's education policy, in their eagerness to attack his character. But the fact is- - this is one story Gore did not make up.