In About-Face, Hillary Clinton Ramps Up Criticism of Charter Schools


In an about-face, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is currently running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has reversed her previous stance of supporting charter schools, announcing that she now opposes them.

The comments came during a town hall meeting in South Carolina with journalist Roland Martin, who addressed the subject by saying that a recent poll of black parents in the state found that the majority approved of charter schools and hoped to enroll their children in them due to the state of the public school system.

Clinton was then asked if she approved the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.  She replied that although she had been in support of charter schools for the past 30 years, she did so as a supplement to the public school system, not as a substitute for it.  She went on to say that she believes charter schools do serve a purpose, but that both good and bad charter schools exist.

She said that charter schools were originally created in an effort to learn what works, and then to transfer those ideas to the public school system, adding that “most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”  She said that this puts traditional schools in a no-win situation because they do not receive the resources or support necessary to help all the children they enroll.

Clinton added that she would like to see parents have the ability to make educational choices for their children within the public school system, calling it “one of the real pillars of our democracy and… a path for opportunity.”

Her comments have massaged the support of teachers unions across the country who have largely backed Clinton from the beginning of her campaign.  While unions do not say they do not support charter schools, many of which are not unionized, they do argue that charters take needed money away from the public school system.

Not everyone in the Democratic camp agrees with Clinton’s comments, however.  Democratic advocacy group Education Reform Now recently posted a comment from Director Charles Barone, who argued that Clinton’s new position was “highly disappointing.”  He said Clinton’s sentiments stoked fears over how recent support from teachers unions would affect her K-12 platform.

Clinton has publicly shown her support of charter schools for years.  Her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” expressed her support for charter schools, which she referred to as “public schools created and operated under a charter.”  Later on, she added that the idea behind charter schools is “that they should be freed from regulations that stifle innovation, so they can focus on getting results.”

While Clinton’s recent comments do not specifically say that the schools push children out, charter school critics have long argued that children who are considered to be disciplinary problems, or who could potentially cause the average standardized test scores to drop at those schools, are counseled out of the institution.  They say that student achievement at these schools cannot be meaningfully compared to traditional schools because public schools must enroll all children while charter schools do not, writes Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post.

Clinton did not discuss vouchers, but she has consistently opposed them.