Hillary Clinton has moved to the left of President Obama on trade, energy, immigration, student loans, health care and entitlements. But even we’re surprised by her latest move, which is to turn against charter schools as an engine of education opportunity.
“Most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation,” Mrs. Clinton said last weekend in South Carolina. She also acknowledged that “for many years now” she has “supported the idea of charter schools,” though “not as a substitute for the public schools.”
Well, as Mrs. Clinton used to appreciate, charter schools are public schools—albeit freed from bureaucracy and union work rules. In her 1996 memoir, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote that “I favor promoting choice among public schools, much as the President’s Charter Schools Initiative encourages.” In 2007 she told a teachers-union conference in New York that “I actually do believe in charter schools.”
Why the sudden change? Her press assistant explained to Politico that “Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That’s what she did here.” Sorry, that quote is from Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers that endorsed Mrs. Clinton in July, 16 months before Election Day. The National Education Association followed. Unions loathe charter competition, and Mrs. Clinton is returning the favor of these early endorsements.
If Mrs. Clinton had looked at the evidence, she’d have seen a different story about charters and “the hardest-to-teach kids.” Charters don’t exclude difficult students. Like other public schools, they aren’t allowed to discriminate. Nearly every state requires a random lottery to choose students if there are more applicants than openings. The reason some charters turn away students is that they lack the resources to accommodate every desperate family trapped in a teachers-union compound.
Charters serve some of the most troubled students, including a higher percentage in poverty than all public schools, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. In urban centers in particular, charters serve mostly minority students and include more who are learning English than do public schools as a whole.
Mrs. Clinton knows these basic facts, so she may be tapping into the recent political melodrama over New York City’s Success Academy charter schools. Founder Eva Moskowitz runs tight ships, and students who misbehave can expect the once typical response called discipline. Ms. Weingarten has been running a political and media campaign against Success Academy, though its attrition levels are lower than district averages in the Big Apple. If you want to see public schools that really don’t tolerate disruptive students, go to your average rich suburban school.
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.