Elections

Clinton distances herself from charter schools, one of her husband’s legacies

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attends the closing session of the National Industry Meeting, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. The annual convention of the Brazilian industry gathers about two thousand businessmen. On Monday, Clinton began a Latin America tour that also included stops in El Salvador, Panama and Peru.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attends the closing session of the National Industry Meeting, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. The annual convention of the Brazilian industry gathers about two thousand businessmen. On Monday, Clinton began a Latin America tour that also included stops in El Salvador, Panama and Peru. AP

Hillary Clinton raised more than a few eyebrows last weekend when she criticized charter schools because it appeared to be a departure from her decades-long support of the alternative educational institutions.

Her remarks are even more surprising than people realize.

It turns out her husband, former President Bill Clinton, considers himself the “father” of charter schools, according to a February 2015 email between Gene Sperling, a veteran of both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and Victoria Suarez-Palomo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s special advisor on strategy and planning.

“WJC may be more interested in narrowly helping best charter schools which he considers himself the father of -- as opposed to ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) generally -- but will try to find out,” Sperling wrote.

The email was provided to the Republican National Committee as part of a public records request from the Department of Education and obtained by McClatchy.

Clinton has endured blistering criticism this week from those who accuse her of changing her stance on charter schools to score points from the unions, whose endorsements she is seeking as she mounts her second campaign for president.

“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 Nov. 7 in South Carolina when she was asked whether she supports the expansion of charter schools.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, both opponents of charter schools, have endorsed her.

“Hillary Clinton’s sudden reversal on charter schools shows she’ll put the interests of the teachers unions over low income children who deserve the opportunity to get a better education,” RNC spokesman Michael Short said. “Not only is Hillary Clinton reminding voters that she will do or say anything to win an election, she is selling out the very people the Democrat Party claims to stand up for.”

Bill Clinton and and his family foundation have long been involved in the promotion of charter schools.

In 2005, he opened a children’s zone headquarters in Harlem that houses a charter school while announcing a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. The next year he and former President Bush announced a grant for new charter schools in New Orleans.

The Clinton Global Initiative helped steer millions of donations to charter schools across the United States, including in Tennessee, Texas and Los Angeles, as well as India.

In A September 2012 blog post on the foundation website, former Minnesota state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge credited Bill Clinton as “a powerful advocate for the chartering movement from its beginning.”

In South Carolina, Clinton did acknowledge she had supported charter schools for three decades, promoting them in her last presidential run.

“The president believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together — instead of other efforts — like vouchers — which separate people out — siphon off much needed resources; and weakening the school systems that desperately need to be strengthened,” said Clinton, then fist lady, at a 1998 White House meeting.

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