If you’ve been starved for any sustained discussion about public schools from any of the presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton provided some Christmas cheer earlier this week. But that doesn’t mean her remarks won’t stir controversy.
At a school in Keota, Iowa, the Democratic White House hopeful was discussing public schools, and praised Iowa for having one of the best school systems in the country. Clinton also highlighted that Iowa had the 2nd-highest ACT scores in the country—that was true in both 2013 and 2014, although only among states where more than half the graduates took the test. And she criticized Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Branstad for vetoing a one-time payment of $56 million to schools this year.
But then she said this: “This school district and these schools throughout Iowa are doing a better-than-average job,” Clinton told the crowd. “Now, I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better-than-average job. If a school’s not doing a good job, then, you know, that may not be good for the kids.”
Watch those remarks below:
Although she referenced ACT scores before those remarks, she doesn’t directly say how she defines a below-average, average, or above-average school.
On its face, closing below-average schools, let alone average ones, would put thousands of schools at risk. The president and the U.S. Department of Education don’t have the power on their own to simply shut down schools. And it’s worth noting that the brand-new Every Student Suceeds Act does not allow the federal government to dictate how states intervene in the lowest-performing schools, let alone schools that many might deem merely below-average, or average.
UPDATE: In a statement released after Clinton’s remarks, Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said the candidate isn’t interested in shutting down schools, and said that Clinton instead wants to ensure that schools had enough funding not to be forced to close: “Hillary Clinton’s entire career has been a commitment to fixing struggling schools, not shutting them down, and she’s going to continue that if she’s elected President.”
Still, in general, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both of which have endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary, are not fans of school closures. (Clinton also doesn’t say what, if anything, would replace schools that should close.)
Keep in mind that those headline-grabbing comments from Clinton are from a 24-second clip from a much longer speech. You can watch Clinton’s full time on stage in Keota here (her remarks about school closures begin at the 19:40 mark):
And how well exactly is the Keota district doing? If you want to go by state exams, both Keota High School and Keota Elementary School beat state proficiency averages in reading and math. The elementary school overall gets a “commendable” rating, missing out on the higher “exceptional” and “high-performing” ratings, while the high school doesn’t get an overall rating.
Clinton goes on to note that only about 10 percent or less of funds for schools come from the federal government.
“The federal government doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this. This is mostly state and local decisionmaking,” Clinton said, referring to the source and nature of funding. But, she added, “As president, what I’m looking for is schools that exceed expectations.”
“I am very partial towards districts that are doing well,” said Clinton, a comment that probably isn’t particularly controversial.