Hillary Clinton's war on charter schools

Last weekend there was a little noted stop on Hillary Clinton’s campaign route where she talked to a group of teachers union supporters in South Carolina. She was ladling out the red meat that her big donors wanted to hear, but not even all of her party’s base is going to be happy about it. (Politico)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded less like a decades-long supporter of charter schools over the weekend and more like a teachers union president when she argued that most of these schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Her comments in South Carolina came straight from charter school critics’ playbook and distanced her from the legacies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton — credited with creating a federal stream of money to launch charters around the country — and President Barack Obama, whose administration has dangled federal incentives to push states to become more charter friendly.

There’s no mystery to be solved here. During her time as First Lady, Hillary was on board with her husband who was, to his credit, a big advocate of charter schools and educational options for parents. When she was running for President the first time, such choices were still in vogue, even though the unions were clearly not wild about it. Besides… Barack Obama had the same position so there was no danger in ticking off the big union money at that point. But now the worm has turned and the unions are more powerful than ever. Some of them were holding off on their endorsements and a few had even gone over to Bernie Sanders. Hillary had to make a move to secure her hard liberal bona fides and not let Bernie get too far out in front of her on the left. With that in mind, she has flip flopped once again and is singing the teachers union tune while collecting their endorsements and donations.

The spokesperson in chief for the unions, Randy Weingarten, took to the pages of the HuffPo this week to reinforce the message.

Unfortunately, some charter proponents have shifted the intent of charters from incubating ideas and sharing successes to competing for market share and taxpayer dollars. A pro-charter group in New York recently ran deplorable ads suggesting they care more about equity than Mayor de Blasio does. The reality is that some charter school operators want to take public funds yet behave like private entities that can play by different rules.

Charter schools tend to enroll fewer students with disabilities, fewer English language learners, and a less-poor population of students than do nearby public schools. Reuters has reported on practices some charter operators use to “get the students they want.” Some require character references from a religious or community leader, entry exams, or completion of lengthy forms (often only in English). A Philadelphia charter school accepted applications only one day each year–at a suburban country club.

The litany of complaints – most entirely disingenuous – goes on for quite a while. You don’t have to look very closely at Weingarten’s essay to pick out the key message. Much like the hints we saw from Hillary Clinton, she points to the amazing success of some charter schools, such as when she highlights the fact that “the top-ranked high school in Louisiana is a unionized charter school.”

I assume you caught the extra word slipped into that sentence even without my emphasizing it.

With all of that in mind, Hillary’s argument is essentially perfect. It strikes all the right tones, pleases the right people, keeps her ahead of Bernie Sanders and brings in the big campaign dollars. In fact, the only real complain you might have with this line of thinking is that… it’s wrong. Joshua Sharf at Watchdog has an excellent rundown of how things work in Colorado, just for one example.

These are claims that have been debated in the public literature for some time. However, statistics provided by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado League of Charter Schools do not bear them out, at least here in Colorado.

Colorado was an early adopter of charter schools, and they remain exceedingly popular in the state. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of the 2012-2013 school year, Colorado ranked third in the country in charter school enrollment as a percentage of school population, behind Arizona and the District of Columbia. That year, 10.4 percent of the state’s public school students were in charters. In 2014, that number had risen to over 11 percent…

According to a 2013 report for the Colorado Department of Education, 6.9 percent of charter school students are special needs, whereas 9.2 percent of all Colorado students are. However, much of that disparity can be explained by non-special ed students transferring into charter schools over time, while special ed students in charters tend to stay there.

Sharf has plenty of good info on how the largely non-union charter schools actually work and it’s a far cry from the picture being painted by Weingarten and (this year) Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing going on here but the usual attacks on school choice and parental control, along with the massively wealthy and powerful teachers unions making sure they keep the Democrat nominee on a leash. And this is a position which Hillary Clinton holds near and dear… at least until the polls turn against the idea.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023