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Clinton to Charters: 'Keep This Country in the Change Business'

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By guest blogger Mary Ann Zehr, in Atlanta

Former President Bill Clinton urged educators from charter schools today to continue to lead the nation in taking risks to improve public institutions. "You've got to keep this country in the change business," he said.

In a 45-minute speech accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Clinton made several specific requests of the 4,000 charter school supporters gathered here for the alliance's annual meeting.

Clinton urged charter schools to get involved in an initiative he's planning to launch with a meeting this month in Chicago for public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, to become more energy-efficient. He said charter schools that participate could save on their utility bills in the long run and also create much-needed jobs for some of the Americans who are unemployed.

Clinton also asked the leaders of charter schools to sign up their schools to be part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an effort he's leading to combat obesity in children. Clinton said 239 charter schools are among the 12,000 schools that are members of the alliance. He'd like to see at least 2,000 charter schools take part.

Clinton said he's happy that he "disregarded" his political advisers and advocated for the concept of charter schools while running for president in 1992. He said charter schools were born out of a sense from some educators that "too many schools had a monopoly on customers" and some weren't responsive to students.

Peter C. Groff, the president and chief executive officer of the alliance, called Clinton an "early champion of charter schools" and "instrumental" to their growth. He observed that Clinton had created in 1994 the federal Charter Schools Program, which is now a $256 million program, to help finance such schools. Over Clinton's presidency, the number of charter schools grew from one in 1992 to 2,000, he said.

Now the United States has 5,277 charter schools, which make up 5.4 percent of all public schools, according to the alliance.


Photo: Former President Bill Clinton addresses the National Charter Schools Conference on June 21 in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

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