News Story

Hillary Clinton Dead Wrong: Charter Schools Must and Do Take 'Hardest to Teach'

Charters teach more low-income students, not fewer

A much higher proportion of students attending Michigan’s public charter schools come from low-income families compared to the state's conventional public schools, according to the state's Center for Educational Performance and Information. Last year, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches due to low family income comprised 70 percent of the charter school student population, compared to 44 percent in conventional public schools.

The figures are newsworthy in light of recent comments from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that charter schools don’t take the "hardest to teach" students. Here’s what she said:

"The original idea behind the charter schools … was to learn what worked and apply them in the public schools. And here's a couple of problems. Most charter schools, I don't want to say everyone, but most charter schools, they don't take the hardest-to-teach kids. And if they do, they don't keep them. The public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do thankfully take everybody, and they don't get the resources and help and support they need to take care of every child's education."

Yet charter schools in Michigan are required to accept every student whose family applies, according to state law. When the number of applicants exceeds the number of seats available, the schools are forced to use a lottery or similar random method to select who gets in.

“Secretary Clinton isn’t accurate when she says that charter schools don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter school advocacy group, in an email. “In fact, in Michigan, charter schools educate more harder-to-educate kids that traditional public schools do, particularly children in poverty. Michigan charter schools must accept any student that applies.”

That also includes special education students, who comprised 10 percent of the students in Michigan’s charter schools, just slightly less than the 12 percent figure at conventional public schools.

In 2014-15, 144,522 students attended a Michigan charter school, and 101,714 of them qualified for a reduced-price or free lunch. Conventional public school districts had 1,345,712 students, with 594,059 designated as economically disadvantaged.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.