Yes, Hillary Clinton supports charter schools. She also supports equity and inclusion.

Hillary’s recent comments about charter school equity and inclusion have sparked a conversation about America’s public schools. It’s an important debate — one we should be having — for our kids’ futures and for our country’s future.

So let’s cut right to the chase: For decades, Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of both public charter schools and an unflinching advocate for traditional public schools, their teachers and their students. She knows that all public schools play a role in providing pathways for every child to live up to their potential. This isn’t anything new. She’s been saying it for decades.

Just a few months ago:

“The original idea behind charter schools was that they would be kind of laboratories for the public schools. And I go back to supporting that idea to the 1980s. Because anything that can get us better focused on what works in teaching different kinds of kids, we should be open to.”
Hillary — Glen, New Hampshire, 7/4/15

A few years ago:

“Well I believe in public school choice, and I’ve been a long supporter of charter schools, which is one of the reasons why I was pleased that our Greenville event was in a charter school.”
Hillary — Interview with the Spartanbeurg Herald Journal, 5/10/07

More than a decade ago:

“I do support charter schools that are done the right way. Accountable public schools with well-trained teachers. I believe in giving parents more choices in selecting from among public schools. I’ve seen what can happen when citizens and teachers are empowered, and when people feel obligated to be a part of the school and the community. If we want every child to learn, than every adult must share the same goal, to raise up our public schools, not tear them down. I have been committed to public education my entire life.”
Hillary — Syracuse University, 2/9/00

Hillary’s support of quality charter schools goes hand-in-hand with her call for equity and inclusion — for all public schools. We owe our kids a debate, but we also owe our kids solutions. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “The bottom line is that the charter school brand has to stand for quality, accountability, cost-efficiency, and transparency.” Not addressing difficult questions (or simply trying to score political points) does not serve our charter schools or our students. The issues that Hillary has raised are issues that all of us should care about. Here they are:

Charter accountability

Hillary believes that every public school should be serving our students and supporting our teachers. And when charter schools are producing results, she believes we should double down on their success by scaling the model and ensure that their innovations are widely disseminated throughout our traditional public schools. That was the original bargain of charter schools.

At the same time, we must also have the courage to shut down charters that are failing our kids. And don’t just take this from me, or Hillary, for that matter. Take it from Geoffrey Canada:

“You know, people tell me, ‘Yeah, those charter schools, a lot of them don’t work.’ A lot of them don’t. They should be closed. I mean, I really believe they should be closed.”

Ensuring accountability and transparency is hard work. But those concerned about leaving students in failing traditional schools should be just as concerned about leaving kids in failing charter schools. This may seem obvious, but the evidence for accountability is clear: closing charter schools for poor performance contributes to improved student outcomes.

Serving students with disabilities

Hillary also raised concerns about students with disabilities and their access to charter schools. The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools recently found an ongoing enrollment gap of students with disabilities in charter schools compared to traditional public schools.

Source: The National Center for Special Education, available at: http://bit.ly/1HDGugi

Why the enrollment gap? Currently, there is no widely accepted answer. Some of the disparity may be attributable to charters counseling out students with disabilities. However, some of the disparity may be the result of parents of students with disabilities wanting to enroll their child in a known program in the traditional public school or keep their child in a consistent environment. In that case, you may be less likely to choose a charter in the first instance or move them to a charter in the second.

But there’s good news. The gap between the percentage of students with disabilities in charter schools versus traditional schools is decreasing. Just this week, we learned that between the 2008–09 school year and the 2011–12 school year, the gap shrunk by nearly 60 percent.

Source: The National Center for Special Education, available at: http://bit.ly/1HDGugi

That represents real progress, but that’s just a national average. It masks larger disparities in some districts. That is why Hillary recognizes that we have more work to do to ensure that every charter school is open to every child.

Suspension and expulsion rates

Finally, recent accounts have raised concerns that some charters are suspending and expelling students at higher rates than traditional schools. News accounts have been filled with disturbing data and anecdotal evidence of much higher suspension or expulsion rates for charter students than traditional public students in New York City, Chicago and Boston.

Hillary believes that leaders across the country should be rethinking school discipline policies to ensure that removing a student from the classroom is the absolute last resort.

Charters should be at the forefront of this conversation — experimenting and innovating to keep our students engaged. In Washington, DC, where charters were disproportionately suspending and expelling students two years ago, the charter community has worked hard to reverse this trend and there may be some important lessons learned from this improvement.

Part of real leadership is naming hard truths and addressing them together. And in pointing out that charters suspend a disproportionate number of students — nearly 10 percent more than traditional schools — Hillary wants to start an important national conversation.

Here’s the bottom line:

Hillary’s comments were about asking hard questions of a movement she has and will continue to support. That’s real leadership — it is how we make our public schools stronger and it is how we ensure they live up to the potential of every child.