The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No, Hillary Clinton didn’t say she wants to close most U.S. schools. Here’s what she actually said.

Hillary Clinton got into hot water for saying at a rally Tuesday in Keota, Iowa:

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, y’know, that may not be good for the kids.

How did she define “better than average?” She didn’t. There are different ways one could define that, with varying results. (You could even construct a bell curve in which there is only one “above average” entity.) But some news  organizations (including a blog on ran with the remarks to say that she might want to close as many as half — or even most — of the schools in the country.

Please. Like Clinton or not, she hasn’t been a big advocate for large-scale school closures, and her words, in context with the remarks before and after, don’t suggest that she is planning on advocating the closure of public schools. (See transcript below.)

Certainly her language wasn’t artful, and she might wish she hadn’t said what she said. But according to her campaign, she doesn’t favor closing all of the schools that don’t do a “better-than-average job” and has never been an advocate for school closings.

Here is what she said, taking from a more than one-hour video, with the relevant comments, starting at about 17:00:

I’m also going to do everything I can to defend education, and to make it clear that the best way to improve elementary and secondary education is to actually listen to the teachers and educators who are in the classrooms with our students and not scapegoat them and treat them like they don’t have any contribution to make.
And I wanna say a word about small rural schools like this one. Because I know that was the original reason that you all got so excited and why you were stalking presidential candidates. [laughter] And I don’t blame you. And I actually looked up some numbers.
Y’know Iowa has one of the best education systems in the country and has had for a long time. And I believe [applause] — Since I grew up in Illinois, we used to take a test they called the Iowa Basic Test, we used to take that test all the time. I wasn’t happy about it. But we did it because your education system was viewed as one of the best in the country. And your students have I think the second-highest ACT scores in the country. And I looked at the average of what Iowa students have, which is higher than the national average. This school’s students are higher than the Iowa average. [applause]
And so for the life of me, I don’t understand why your state government — and I know Governor Brandstad vetoed the money that would’ve come to help this school, and it was a bipartisan agreement. Y’know those are hard to come by these days. You had a bipartisan agreement in your legislature for more one-time student funding to help deal with some of the financial challenges that districts like this one have.
And Governor Brandstad vetoed it. Yet at the same time you have these laws which require if you have a deficit you may not be able to be a school district. It doesn’t make sense to me. When you- When you- Something is not broke, don’t break it. Right?
And this school district and these schools throughout Iowa are doing a better-than-average job. 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, y’know, that may not be good for the kids. But when you have a district that is doing a good job, it seems kinda counterproductive to impose financial burdens on it.
So the federal government doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this, this is mostly state and local decision-making. Very little, less than 10 percent I think maybe 7 percent or so of the money that’s used to run schools in Iowa comes from the federal government. So therefore this is primarily a state issue.
But as president what I’m looking for are schools that exceed expectations. And I don’t care whether they’re urban, suburban, or rural. And where there are small districts like this one, I know you’ve got online opportunities, and maybe there should be exploration about how you can also share teachers and all the rest of it.
But I am very partial toward districts that are doing well. And from everything I can tell, this one is.
And so I hope that you’re able to work through whatever your financial and political challenges are with the state government, and at least have a fighting chance to keep providing the quality of education that produces students like these three young women. I meet a lot of students and you can be very proud of not only them but I’m sure so many others for the way they present themselves, the way they conduct themselves, and how effective they have been in making their case.
So when we talk about rural development, you’ve gotta also talk about rural education. And I think we’ve gotta go hand in hand, and maybe Tom [Vilsack] will have something more to say about this. Because if we’re gonna diversify the rural economy, we wanna make sure that we have the best possible schools in order to produce the students and the adults that are going be part of that new economy, particularly when it comes to clean energy in Iowa.
I also believe we need to do more on early childhood education. A lot of kids are not prepared when they come to school and they never catch up. So I would like to see us try to help, starting with the most disadvantaged kids, to give them a better early head start, a better universal kindergarten experience so that they can be successful.
And then on the other end we’ve gotta make college affordable, which it isn’t right now for a lot of hardworking families. And I have a whole plan about how to do that. I want to make tuition debt-free so you don’t have to borrow money if you go to a public college or university, and I wanna help anybody who has debt — anybody here have some student debt? yep — I wanna help you refinance that student debt the way you can with a mortgage or a car payment. Right now you can’t, and we oughta be able to get the cost down. [applause] You can save thousands of dollars if we do that for you.
And I personally don’t think the federal government should be making money off of lending money to students and families for kids to go to college and get their education. So we’re gonna change a lot of what is now the kind of challenges that people face when it comes to getting enough funding to go to college.

Here’s a statement from Jesse Ferguson, a Clinton spokesman:

“A big reason Hillary Clinton was in Keota yesterday was to support smaller, struggling communities and their school districts that face shrinking tax bases. As the only candidate to outline a detailed plan to spur economic growth in rural areas like Keota, she spoke again about Governor Brandstad’s decision to starve Iowa schools, especially rural ones, of critical funding, which could force too many rural schools to close. She also noted that shutting down these schools was not good for Iowa students and communities. 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.”