Remarks on K-12 education in Durham, North Carolina

“Public education remains the foundation of our democracy, and we are going to fight for it.”

At Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina, Hillary Clinton delivered remarks on strengthening K-12 education and breaking down barriers to give every child the chance to succeed.

Hello. Thank you all so much. Wow, I’ll tell you what, I am thrilled to be here and I want to thank Congressman Butterfield for that enthusiastic introduction, but more than that, for his leadership in the Congress where he chairs the very important Congressional Black Caucus. Thank you so much. I want to thank Bill Bell, your mayor; Larry Hall, the House leader; Christie Moore from the public schools, all of whom appeared before I came out, and I’m grateful that they did. Dr. Bert Lum, thank you for being superintendent. And Dr. William Logan, thank you for being principal of Hillside. I want to thank Congressman David Price and his wife Lisa who are here. And all the elected officials—all of the state, county, and local officials. …

I want to also thank some great friends—Carolina and Richard Sullivan and Tom and Jill Hendrickson, and I particularly want to thank the Hillside High School choir, band, and dance ensemble. It’s a real pleasure for me to be back in North Carolina to be here today. I want to follow up where the congressman stopped. I’m running for president to knock down every barrier that stands in your way to get ahead and stay ahead. I am not a one-issue candidate, because this is not a one-issue country. We have work to do. We need more good jobs with rising incomes for hardworking Americans. That’s why I’m proposing more jobs with infrastructure, manufacturing, and let’s combat climate change with more clean, renewable energy jobs. And yes, let’s invest in more research right here in the Research Triangle. You know what that can mean.

And I want to do more for small business. The fastest-growing segment of small business are minority and women-owned small businesses. And let’s raise the minimum wage so that barrier gets knocked down so people who work full-time aren’t left in poverty. And what do you say we finally, finally guarantee equal pay for women’s work?

One of the barriers some people still face has to do with health care. I am very proud of President Obama’s success in establishing the Affordable Care Act. And I will fight every attempt by the Republicans to hand our health care back to insurance companies. I will also work to make the costs lower, the expenses lower, and I will take on the pharmaceutical drug industry’s increasing prices that are posing a great burden to all kinds of Americans, especially older Americans on Medicare.

Now, it’s important that we recognize we are now at 90 percent coverage. We have never been this high, my friends. And when the Republicans talk about repealing it, they never tell you what they would replace it with, because they don’t want you to know. They would turn the clock back so that you could be denied health insurance if you have a preexisting condition. They would make women once again pay more for our health care than men. And there’s no guarantee that people up to the age of 26 would be able to stay on their parents’ policies, because that only happened due to the Affordable Care Act.

So we have a lot at stake. And I also believe we should not start over. We should not in any way throw our country into a contentious debate about health care again. So I will defend the Affordable Care Act.

But here in this high school, this historic high school, I want to talk about another barrier—the barrier of education. Education should be the great door-opener, and yet we know it often doesn’t turn out that way. I think every child in this country deserves a good teacher in a good school—regardless of the ZIP code you live in. And I see my friend Kay Hagan here. I was proud to serve with her in the United States Senate. And she told the truth when she ran for reelection. She said these policies that the Republicans are pushing in North Carolina are going to undermine public education in this state. And it’s only gotten worse in recent years.

And I want to say something. I spent 18 wonderful years in Arkansas. My husband was governor; he asked me to chair a commission to try to improve education in our state because we were 49th, Mississippi was 50th. We had a lot of schools that were really under-resourced. Facilities were terrible. Kids did not get a chance to even know how far they could go. And you know what we did? We looked at North Carolina. We looked at what was happening in public education in this state. Because back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, North Carolina was committed to improving its public schools. And for the life of me, I don’t know why the Republicans have such a problem with funding public schools to the extent that they should.

Because I recently looked at the numbers. Teachers’ salaries have been slashed in North Carolina. You are now 46th in the nation in funding for public education. Thousands of teachers who literally cannot make ends meet are leaving the profession. So what was in many ways an incredible success story that people looked at and wanted to emulate, we watched your Republican governor and legislature slowly eroding the base for public education in this state. And I will tell you this. Public education remains the foundation of our democracy, and we are going to fight for it.

I know you can’t get good jobs with rising incomes unless you’ve got a good public education system. So when I talk about wanting to get the economy moving, create more opportunities, it goes hand in hand with education. So let me tell you what I want to do.

If I am so fortunate to be your president, I want to be a good partner with teachers and principals and school boards and families and students. And as a mother and a grandmother, I have an idea about what we need to do for public education. You see, I think public education needs some TLC. Teaching, learning and community. And here’s what I propose. I want to lead a national effort to recruit more young people and even mid-career people back into teaching by working to raise the salaries and the professionalism and the standing of our teachers. Whenever you look at international rankings and you see countries like Finland or Singapore standing really tall in these international rankings, when you really look behind the numbers, what you find is this: teachers are treated with respect as the professionals that they are, playing the role they play in preparing our next generation.

So I want more good teachers. I want to help work with colleges of education and other ways of training teachers to create a teaching force second to none in the world. And we are going to work hard to push states to reinvest in public schools, including in our teachers.

And what’s the ‘L’? The ‘L’ is for learning. Let’s make clear we want to do what works. I know that there are lots of theories about how best to teach kids, and different kids often need different kinds of help. But we ought to look at the research about what works. And we ought to be also providing opportunities for every student in every school. So for example, every school district should offer computer science programs and coding programs for their students. There will be more than a million jobs in computer science in the next 10 years. I want the young people from everywhere, including Hillside, to be prepared to compete for those jobs. I also want to go and get the best programs we can find anywhere – in public schools, in good charter schools that are part of public school systems. Let’s find the best programs. Let’s make sure we’re doing what works.

And then finally, when we think about learning, let’s start with early childhood education. And the community has a big role to play. There’s been a lot of finger-pointing and scapegoating in public education, when really, you know what the problems are? The problems are that communities are not stepping up and helping every child succeed. If you have children who are living in poverty, if you have children who are coming from families where there is disruption, whether it be addiction or a mental illness or imprisonment, those kids need more help. I want communities to provide more support for our students and our teachers. We should get back to the idea of community schools. Schools are public treasures, and we should look for ways that schools can incorporate, the way they used to, health, counseling, as well as a curriculum that is much broader than what is now available. You should not have to go to a wealthy school in a wealthy suburb to get art and music and theater and the other kinds of learning and teaching that will help kids.

I feel passionately about this because I am a product of really good public schools. I had great teachers from kindergarten through high school. They challenged me. They helped me understand the world I lived in and what I could do to make a difference. And we had everything. I can’t tell you, I was so fortunate – music and art. Those were just part of the curriculum. I was a terrible singer even though I loved to sing. In fact, probably the worst moment in my terrible singing career was after singing to my daughter every night before I put her to bed; about the age of 18 months she had learned to say a few words and I was singing away, rocking her, and she reaches up and puts her little finger on my mouth and says, “No sing, mommy, no sing.” But before my daughter told me that, our music teacher told me that.

We need to create those memories and those opportunities for our kids today. And I will be absolutely committed to doing everything I can imagine to help school districts like this one, and also really poor school districts. Within the last two weeks, I’ve been in schools in South Carolina, rural South Carolina, that were literally falling apart. And I’ve been in Detroit where the schools are in such bad condition, children are in classrooms with mold and rodents. I used to have a test. I called it the Chelsea test, after my daughter. I would go to public schools in Arkansas, or when my husband started running for president all across the country, and I would say to myself: would I send my daughter there? A lot of places the answer was yes, and proud to do it. Too many times the answer was no.

There should not be a single public school in our country where any person wouldn’t want to send their child. And that is the way we should think about it. And if you are in a position of public responsibility, look in the mirror and ask yourself: would you send your child or your grandchild to these schools? And if the answer is no, do something about it–improve conditions in the facilities and the curriculum.

Now, there is a lot at stake in this election. The stakes keep getting higher and the rhetoric on the Republican side keeps getting lower. That’s why it’s really important, as the congressman said, that you vote early or you vote on Tuesday. I would be honored to earn your support because I believe North Carolina needs a president who will work with those who are interested in creating the future that North Carolina should have for all of your citizens.

So I know it’s really hot, and for some of us being this hot is like a sauna and you feel like maybe you’re going to lose a pound or two. But for others, it may be a little too hot. So let me just end with this.

There’s a lot I want to do. I want to stand up for voting rights against the kind of restriction that North Carolina is imposing. It is outrageous that in 2016, we have to say we’re for voting rights. I thought that was settled decades ago. But one of the ways to make sure that we stop this is to do everything you can to turn out as many people as possible, to demonstrate we are not going to be intimidated by these restrictive rules that are being imposed unfairly, and I would argue unconstitutionally.

And yes, I will take on the gun lobby. 33,000 people a year die from gun violence. There are ways we can do this. Everything I’ve proposed–comprehensive background checks and the like–are supported by 92 percent of the American people and 85 percent of gun owners. Folks talk all the time about the powerful interests in Washington, and they list them off: Wall Street and drug companies and insurance companies and big oil. Absolutely, they all have too much say. But you know what the strongest lobby is? It’s the gun lobby, which intimidates people, threatens elected officials. It is time, my friends, we stand together and say enough, we’re going to save lives, we’re going to protect our communities and our families.

I stand with the families of Sandy Hook. Think of how you would feel. You send off your precious first-grader, maybe with a little backpack on his or her back, and the next think you hear is that some crazed person has taken an AR-15 and murdered those precious children and some of their teachers. The families of Sandy Hook are suing the maker of the AR-15. And they are trying to prevent other families from ever experiencing what they have gone through. But here’s the problem. A law was passed a few years ago immunizing the gun companies and sellers from liability. I voted against it; my opponent voted for it. There is not another industry in America that has that kind of free pass–no accountability. Cars kill people; they can be sued. Drugs, prescription drugs do. Toys even do. Families can hold somebody accountable and try to change practices. Under this law, suits like this one have been thrown out. I hope that the parents of Sandy Hook have better luck, but I will tell you this: I will do everything I can to make sure gun makers and sellers are accountable, just like any other business in our country.

So my friends, I am thrilled to be back in this beautiful state. I can’t believe the way spring has already come. Of course that does remind us we do have to take climate change seriously, which I intend to do. But the weather should be beautiful, so don’t waste any time. Vote before early voting closes. Vote on March 15. If you will go and vote for me on Tuesday, I will work and fight for you as hard as I can. Thank you all very much.

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