Hillary Clinton Weathers Criticism for Flip-Flop on Charter Schools

Hillary Clinton in 2014 / AP
November 13, 2015

Hillary Clinton weathered criticism this week after claiming that charter schools don’t take the "hardest-to-teach" students, an apparent departure from her decades-long support of the alternative schools.

Clinton’s critique of charters, which she disclosed at a campaign event in South Carolina over the weekend, came after she received endorsements from two national teachers unions that firmly oppose charter schools.

"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," Clinton said when asked whether she supports the expansion of charter schools and vouchers, after admitting that she has backed the "idea" of charters for three decades.

The Democratic presidential candidate’s comments came just weeks after the National Education Association endorsed her in October, as the American Federation of Teachers did in July. Both unions are vocal opponents of charter schools.

Many, including multiple editorial boards, have characterized Clinton’s comments as a politically-motivated flip flop. Clinton, then first lady, said at a White House meeting on charter schools in 1998 that the alternative institutions "can play a significant part in revitalizing and strengthening public schools today--by offering greater flexibility from bureaucratic rules, so that parents, teachers, and the community can design and run their own schools, and focus on setting goals and getting results."

"Mrs. Clinton’s charter reversal suggests her Education Department would be a wholly owned union subsidiary. The losers will be the poor parents and children who Democrats claim to represent," the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote.

Moreover, others have pointed to the inaccuracy of Clinton’s claims about charters not taking and keeping the "hardest-to-teach kids," individuals at calling her statements an "exaggeration." Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, pointed to several pieces of evidence showing that charter schools take as many if not more of the "hardest-to-teach" students than their non-charter counterparts and that charters do a better job at retaining these students.

"We appreciate Secretary Clinton’s decades-long support for charter public schools. In fact, charter schools have had strong bipartisan support since the Clinton administration," Rees in a statement Monday.

"That being said, we do take issue with Secretary Clinton’s overgeneralizing of charter schools not serving these so-called ‘hardest-to-teach’ students, particularly when the facts are so strong to the contrary."

The political action committee for the American Federal of Teachers donated $5,000 to Clinton’s presidential campaign days after it endorsed her in July, according to Federal Election Commission records.