Uncovered: the 42 year-old report from Hillary Clinton’s work at the Children’s Defense Fund

The start of Hillary’s fighting for kids and families

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1973, Hillary didn’t take the path of many of her classmates and join a large corporate firm. Instead, she followed her passion — and one of her idols. Marian Wright Edelman — a prominent activist in the civil rights community — had spoken to her law school class four years earlier. For Hillary, that speech was a turning point:

“Until I heard Marian speak, it wasn’t clear to me how to channel my faith and commitment to social justice to try to make a real difference in the world. But she put me on the path of service.”

So after she graduated, Hillary got a job working with Marian at the Children’s Defense Fund. At the time, Marian’s organization was about to launch a ground-breaking project: figuring out why nearly 2 million U.S. children were not in school.

Under Marian’s leadership, Hillary worked alongside young lawyers and advocates to discover why so many young children weren’t getting a formal education. Hillary’s name is proudly displayed in the report, alongside the other staff of the Children’s Defense Fund:

The report challenged the common assumption that all kids in America had the opportunity to go to school and receive a quality education. The research was conducted by knocking on doors of “over 8,500 households in 30 areas and from hundreds of additional interviews with school officials and community leaders.” Hillary was one of the tireless canvassing staff who traveled around the country, talking to kids and families about their experiences accessing public education.

The report found that the nearly two million children who the Census counted as non-enrolled reflected only “the surface of how many children are out of school in America.”

Through this research, the team uncovered a hidden truth about these children:

“They are the non-English-speaking children who sit uncomprehendingly in classrooms conducted in English. They are the handicapped children whose problems have not been diagnosed, have been misdiagnosed, or who have been placed in unsuitable classes where they do not learn. They are the poor white children in Portland, Maine or Floyd County, Kentucky from whom little is expected and for whom less is hoped. They are the black children in Canton, Mississippi whose teachers call them dumb and allow them to graduate from high school reading as low as the second grade level. They are the children who ‘get into trouble’ or the pregnant girls who are never welcomed back into regular classes or schools again.”

The report detailed the short- and long-term effects of missing school. One of the stories was of two sisters, Betty and Kathy.

Betty and Kathy lived with their parents and siblings in a lower-income housing project in Portland, Maine. Betty, the youngest, had heart trouble, and she was often too sick to attend school. Betty only attended 22 days of her fourth grade, but no school officials ever visited the family to ask about her absence. The following year she was advanced to 5th grade.

Betty’s sister, Kathy, had a different story: After missing school multiple days to stay home and help care for Betty, the principal told her to quit and come back the next year to repeat the 10th grade.

Along with inconsistent advice from the school, the family also struggled to pay medical bills along with school fees.

Following the personal stories, this report provided a deeper view of the number of unreported kids who were missing school that went beyond census data, including results from their household surveys in nine states and the District of Columbia.

The report also broke down the different types of barriers preventing kids from regularly attending school — factors like language comprehension, school fees, transportation, and conditions of poverty.

This note below was included in the report. It came from a young child in Floyd County, Kentucky, whose parents didn’t have money for workbooks and other materials.

Through the exhaustive research of young lawyers like Hillary, the report also explored the schooling of children with disabilities, outlining the lack of access and quality of education for these kids.

As Hillary recalls of the time, “I went door to door trying to identify the source of a troubling statistic… I found children who weren’t in school because of physical disabilities like blindness and deafness. I also found school-age siblings at home babysitting their younger brothers and sisters while their parents worked. On the small back porch off her family’s home in a neighborhood of Portuguese-American fishermen, I met a girl in a wheelchair, who told me how much she wanted to go to school. She knew she couldn’t go because she couldn’t walk.”

This report by the Children’s Defense Fund helped lead to the enactment of a federal law guaranteeing access to public school education for children with disabilities, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act or today, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Hillary credits her work at the Children’s Defense Fund, and her relationship with Marian, for setting her on the path she’s still on today: passionately fighting for kids and families. The job at the Children’s Defense Fund was the first in a long career focused on kids and their needs.

That’s a fight Hillary will continue to doggedly wage as president. In this campaign, she has already laid out her plans for greater funding for early education programs, making sure even more kids have access to quality, affordable health care, and creating new opportunities and pathways for kids with mental health issues, autism and physical disabilities.

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