Former President Bill Clinton challenged charter school educators to “put our country back in the future business” during his keynote address Tuesday morning that opened the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta.
“People look to you to keep America changing for the better,” Clinton said toward the end of his nearly 45-minute address. “Too many people have given up on us and it looks like a food fight half the time in Washington and across the country because we’ve forgotten that evidence, experience and the aspirations of everyday people tells us what works.
“This is not about ideology. It’s not about theology. It’s about what we can do to give our kids a better tomorrow by putting our country back in the future business. Charter schools showed we can put our schools in the future business. Now we have to do what is clearly called upon to grow and expand charter schools and have that idea infect every other part of our lives.”
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools honored Clinton with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. Public charter schools nationwide grew from one when Clinton entered the White House to 2,000 after eight years. His administration also established a $256 million grant fund to benefit charter schools. Today two million students attend 5,277 public charter schools, which are 5% of all public schools nationwide.
The former President’s lengthy address made some 4,000 attendees half an hour late for lunch as he waded through historical data about improvements to Arkansas public schools while he was governor, cost issues associated with Medicare, why cholera has spread across Haiti, his initiatives to put millions of Americans back to work and other subjects.
Clinton discussed several of his Foundation initiatives, including putting Americans back to work retrofitting schools and public buildings for energy conservation and his Alliance for a Healthier Generation which combats childhood obesity. The 42nd President also encouraged charter educators to have their students take advantage of the reworked federal student loan program.
“The real challenge for America is to get back into the future business,” Clinton reiterated. “The government should be no more immune from change than the private sector.”