Juan Williams: Hillary betrays charter schools

My 5-year-old grandson goes to a big city charter school. But Eli and his classmates do not belong to a union. They do not give money to politicians. They can’t vote.

Maybe that is why Hillary Clinton has no problem doing a big political flip-flop on charter schools.

Until her recent endorsements from teachers’ unions, Clinton was a supporter of school choice. In her books and speeches, she spoke about the need to improve public school education with a special focus on helping minority and low-income children.

{mosads}But in exchange for winning the endorsements of the two big teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, Clinton has become an opponent of the choice and innovation provided by charter schools.

Here is her explanation for this incredible act of political expediency:

“Most charter schools – I don’t want to say every one – but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” Mrs. Clinton said at an event hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

She added that unlike charter schools, the neighborhood public schools with teachers who are union members “thankfully take everybody and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.”

That statement is not true and even worse it sounds like a script written by the teachers’ unions. The fact is the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination just ran over Eli, his friends and every parent who finds a light of hope in the improvement charter schools bring to American public education.

Here are the facts: 

By law, almost all charter schools get their students from a lottery. They do not cherry-pick their students.

Charter schools have more applicants for their available slots than charter schools can accommodate. Based on my reporting, parents of all classes and races see them as a great stride towards improving public education by providing competition and pioneering teaching techniques that offer a model for all schools. 

Big city public schools with a recent history of social promotions, racial achievement gaps, and high dropout rates are particularly in need of new ideas. Somehow, Clinton no longer sees the need.

The Washington Post editorial board, reacting to Clinton’s claim that charter schools don’t deal with difficult student populations, cited national studies showing “charter schools serve higher percentages of low-income, black and Latino students – all sub-groups that have lagged behind their more advantaged peers – than traditional public schools.” 

The Post also cited research that shows “charter schools produce greater student learning gains than traditional public schools, particularly for poor and minority students.”

The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page was similarly outraged on the facts. The Journal called to Clinton’s attention studies showing charters serve “a higher percentage [of children] in poverty,” and “more who are learning English than do public schools as a whole.”

Earlier in her political life, Clinton seemed to be aware of the hope for better schools that parents and students saw in having the choice to apply to a charter school.

In her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote: “I favor promoting choice among public schools… federal funding is needed to break through bureaucratic attitudes that block change and frustrate students and parents, driving some to leave public schools.”

And in 1998, in her husband’s second term, Clinton gave a speech in which she praised charters. “The president believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.” She drew a clear line between charter schools and vouchers that allowed students to go to parochial and private schools on the grounds that vouchers “siphon off much needed resources” from public school budgets.

Now Clinton is throwing the whole school reform movement under the bus in exchange for political endorsements. 

In this campaign, she has flip-flopped on previous support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. That political about-face was necessary to win the endorsement of blue-collar unions but it is unlikely to have much impact on whether the deal ultimately gets approval from Democrats and the current Republican majority in the House and Senate. Also keep in mind there is no way, if she is elected president, that Clinton is going to undo President Obama’s trade deal.

However, her decision to execute a sharp pivot away from school reform has big implications going forward. It portends a shift in political winds at the Department of Education if she wins the White House.

For the last seven years, the teachers’ unions have fought President Obama’s top education officials — notably former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — over support for charter schools. The unions do not appreciate the Obama administration’s effort to have public school districts compete for grants given to districts with improved student achievement. They opposed holding teachers accountable for their students’ success or failure. 

In the name of protecting failing teachers and bad schools, they are the number one opponents of school reform.

For poor children with a single mom or no parent, school reform and the hope of entry into a good charter school is a matter of a lifeline, their best hope to move up in America. But they don’t endorse politicians. They have no super-PAC. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial succinctly described a future Clinton-run Education department as “a wholly owned union subsidiary.” And the conservatives at the Journal could not help but note that “the losers will be the poor parents and children who Democrats claim to represent.”

You don’t have to be conservative to fear that future.

 Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. 


Tags charter schools Hillary Clinton public education public schools teachers unions
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