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Education Reporter

Hillary Clinton Honored with
'Friend of Education' Award

But acceptance speech faux pas silences crowd

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

ORLANDO, FL - The NEA honored First Lady Hillary Clinton with its annual "Friend of Education" Award on July 5. The award is presented to individuals whom the union considers to "have raised the level of excellence in American Education."

NEA President Bob Chase praised Mrs. Clinton for having "spoken passionately about the need to reduce class size, fought for expansion of after-school programs and pre-school programs, spearheaded an ambitious effort to increase childhood immunizations, pushed for an expansion of children's health coverage, and raised awareness about the impact of tobacco on children." He commended her as "an ambassador for education and social justice across the globe," and touted her book, It Takes a Village, as "a rallying cry on behalf of children."

During her acceptance speech, the First Lady predictably called for greater support and resources for public education and teachers, and received several standing ovations from the crowd. Her praise for the nation's charter schools, however, was greeted with dead silence. She described the high standards she had seen at a Washington, DC charter school, which requires the children to master Latin, and told the assembly that, despite rigorous requirements, the school has a long waiting list.

Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, who attended the conference, says, "Mrs. Clinton wondered why there aren't more schools like this, and said that she thinks the charter school movement will be recognized as one of the ways 'we will have turned around the entire public school system' in the 1990s."

Antonucci notes that "not a single cheer or clap emerged from the 15,000 people in the audience" to greet these pronouncements, and that Mrs. Clinton "quickly returned to firmer ground, praising America's public education system as having 'the best schools and the smartest kids.' "

The next day, convention delegates considered New Business Item (NBI) 36, which read in part: "NEA recognizes that the growing experience with charter schools is increasingly negative, that charters have been seized on by right-wing forces as a wedge to break up and resegregate education and prepare the way for privatization . . . NEA will publicly oppose further extension of charter schools."

Apparently, Hillary Clinton failed to uncover the "right-wing conspiracy" inherent in the charter schools movement.

New Business Item 36 was ruled out of order by Bob Chase on a technicality. According to Antonucci, immediately prior to opening debate on NBI 36, the assembly voted to approve most of this year's resolutions en masse, including Resolution A-26, which is generally supportive of charter schools (see Resolutions).

"The NEA's rules prevent an NBI from restricting a resolution that has already been approved at that year's assembly," Antonucci explains. "There is no evidence that the agenda was manipulated to achieve this result, but the timing of the resolutions vote certainly helped avoid what could have been a divisive debate about the union's current charter schools policy."

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