Candidate questionnaire: Hillary Rodham Clinton

AFT: Today, almost 50 million students attend our nation's public schools. Along with their parents, communities, teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees, these students have been forced to live under test—and-punish policies that include sanctions and school closings, high-stakes assessments, and federalized teacher evaluations that are counterproductive and have taken the joy out of teaching and learning.

Q. What is your view of the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act)? What changes, if any, would you make to the law, and why? Please include positions on:

  • The federal government's role in ensuring equity and access to resources for all children;
  • The role of standards, assessments and accountability in public education;
  • Ensuring that all students have access to a broad curriculum that includes art and music, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM);
  • Professional development for school staff; and
  • Community schools.

HRC: I have been working to improve and support our public schools for decades. Throughout my career I have worked to ensure that every child reaches his or her full potential, and I know a quality education is essential to reach that goal. When I was First Lady of Arkansas, I chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Commission where I worked to raise standards for Arkansas' schools, increase teacher salaries, and lower class size. I continued in this effort as First Lady of the United States and as a Senator, working throughout my career to provide dedicated resources and support to teachers and to recruit, support, and retain more outstanding teachers. We need to attract a whole new generation to teaching because it is critical that our students have well-prepared and well-supported teachers.

When the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted, I viewed it as a historic promise between the federal government and educators. I hoped that it would lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility for our schools' success. Unfortunately, that promise was largely broken because schools struggled to meet the mandates imposed by the law and the implementation at the federal level was problematic.

I applaud Senator Patty Murray and Senator Lamar Alexander for coming together in a bipartisan fashion to unanimously pass the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee to reauthorize NCLB. I believe this bill addresses some of the real challenges with NCLB while retaining our commitment to high academic standards, and to assessments that give parents and teachers the information they need to know how students are performing and if and where they need help to improve. I believe that this bill will correct for some of the real challenges that schools and communities experienced in implementing the law and will ensure that principals, educators and local communities are lifted up as full partners and innovators in improving public education. I also applaud the forward- looking investments in education contained in the bill, including a new commitment to improving early learning.

One of the issues that I am most concerned about is testing. Tests are intended to provide parents and educators with an understanding of how well kids are learning. Having that understanding is crucial. And it is important to remember that testing provides communities with full information about how our low-income students and students of color are doing in comparison to other groups so that we can continue to improve our educational system for all students.

But I understand the frustration many parents and educators feel about tests. Teachers and parents alike are concerned about the amount of time being spent on test preparation, and worry that children are missing out on the most valuable experience in the classroom-- a teacher sparking a student's curiosity and love for learning.

So I am mindful that we need to find the right balance—and that starts with bringing parents and educators back into this conversation about how we ensure a robust and engaging curriculum that engages students in the love of learning rather than narrowing our schools to focus primarily on test preparation.

I do think that Senators Murray and Alexander struck the right balance in the Every Child Achieves Act by continuing to maintain the federal requirement for annual statewide testing in grades 3-8, but ensuring that accountability for improving schools will be based on multiple measures of performance. And I think it will be critical for states and communities to continue to strike the right balance and not layer test upon test. There must be room for invigorating teaching and learning in the classroom.

Q. Do you support any of the current reauthorization proposals under consideration in the 114th Congress?

HRC: I applaud Senator Patty Murray and Senator Lamar Alexander for coming together in a bipartisan fashion to unanimously pass the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee to reauthorize NCLB.

Q. What role do you think the federal government can play in providing access to early childhood education? What specific policy proposals would your administration pursue?

HRC: I believe we need to improve access to quality child care and early learning opportunities for all children. Every child, regardless of parental income, deserves access to high-quality pre-K. I think any discussion of improving our public schools must include universal access to pre- kindergarten. I believe we can start to close the achievement gap by investing in programs that increase children's school readiness and academic preparation while making it easier for parents to balance their responsibilities at work with their responsibilities to their children. We know children's brains develop more rapidly at this time in their lives than at any other and that high quality interventions make a real difference in the outcomes of children from low-income families. . In the months ahead, I look forward to laying out a significant agenda to improve early learning in our country.

I have been highlighting the importance of early childhood education for more than forty years. As First Lady of Arkansas, I helped bring the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters Program (HIPPY) to Arkansas. As First Lady, I hosted the first White House conference on early learning and the brain, championed the program "Prescription for Reading," in which pediatricians provided free books for new mothers to read to their infants as their brains were rapidly developing, and supported the Administration's work to create Early Head Start, which reaches children from birth to age three throughout country. As Senator, I co- sponsored the Education Begins at Home Act, which expands the Parents as Teachers program and other quality programs of early childhood home visitation. As a leader at the Clinton Foundation, I led a national initiative called "Too Small to Fail" aimed at supporting parents to improve vocabulary and brain development in the early years to close the "word gap" and better prepare children for school. As President, I will continue my lifelong work to expand early childhood and parent education programs.

Q. What are your views on private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter school accountability and transparency?

HRC: I strongly oppose voucher schemes because they divert precious resources away from financially strapped public schools to private schools that are not subject to the same accountability standards or teacher quality standards. It would be harmful to our democracy if we dismantled our public school system through vouchers, and there is no evidence that doing so would improve outcomes for children.

Charters should be held to the same standards, and to the same level of accountability and transparency to which traditional public schools are held. This includes the requirements of civil rights laws. They can innovate and help improve educational practices. But I also believe that we must go back to the original purpose of charter schools. Where charters are succeeding, we should be doing more to ensure that their innovations can be widely disseminated throughout our traditional public school system. Where they are failing, they should be closed.

AFT: Access to an affordable and high-quality system of public higher education is critical to the health of the nation—both to ensure that students reach their fullest potential, and to enable the United States to continue to develop as a just society, a vibrant democracy and a land of economic opportunity.

Q. Escalating tuition and fees are leading to a growing number of students leaving college with overwhelming debt from student loans. This burden of rising costs and rising debt makes access to higher education increasingly difficult for many students and their families. What is the role of the federal government in ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible?

HRC: First, too many young people are struggling under the burden of student debt and too many families are struggling to pay the rising cost of college. Second, too many students are starting but never completing college, which means they leave with debt but no degree. I will be offering my own ideas for how to make college more affordable, how to make sure no one graduates with crushing debt, and how to hold colleges accountable to help more students graduate. Among other things, we have to do more to link student loan repayments to income and to help people refinance their loans. And we have to think about both four-year colleges and community colleges. I support President Obama's free community college proposal. I will be talking about ways to reduce the burdens on those entering four-year colleges too, as well as those who are out in the world trying to start a business or a family. I intend to introduce significant proposals on these subjects in the weeks and months ahead.

Q. There has been a nationwide pattern of disinvestment in public higher education such that per-student funding dropped 26.1 percent between 1990 and 2010. What would your administration do to remedy this?

HRC: State budget cuts are a primary cause of tuition increases at public universities and reversing this trend is key to making college more affordable. That's why I will make incentivizing increased state funding of higher education a priority, and explore ways to make sure that the federal government is actively partnering and working with states to address the problem of college affordability.

Q. Career and technical education programs help ensure that postsecondary credentials and skills are accessible to all—a necessity in today's economy. In your view, what is the role of the federal government in supporting high-quality CTE programs?

HRC: In the months ahead, I will lay out my ideas for a comprehensive proposal to train millions more workers over the next decade. I am exploring a number of options to incentivize GTE programs and help provide grants to train workers for the 21st century economy.

Q. What is the federal government's role in requiring appropriate transparency and accountability of for-profit institutions?

HRC: We have to do a lot more to protect students and families from unscrupulous institutions and abusive debt servicers. There are a lot of non-traditional students who want to go back to school to improve their lives, but don't have access to much information or support to figure out how best to do that. Money and time are both tight, with a lot of them trying to juggle family, jobs, and school all at the same time. So they're particularly vulnerable to exploitation and deception.

All students need more guidance in making decisions about where to go to school. We should protect them from institutions that will almost certainly not serve them well. The government should stop funding colleges where almost no one graduates and where most students accumulate a lot of debt but can't get the jobs that would allow them to repay their loans. In the months ahead, I will be laying out specific ideas and proposals on how to increase accountability in the for-profit sector.

AFT: Having a high-quality healthcare system in the United States is a moral imperative, an economic necessity and a fundamental right for all. Underpinning this right is a healthcare system that reflects the needs of the patients, providers and community.

Q. What are your views of the Affordable Care Act? What changes would you make, if any, to the ACA, including the excise tax on high-cost plans and the provisions on shared responsibility for employers?

HRC: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 16 million Americans have gained new coverage. The reduction in the uninsured rate across the country has been staggering, down to roughly 12% for adults.

These statistics translate into real change in people's lives. Families who no longer have to face the threat of bankruptcy because of catastrophic health care costs. Parents who now have health care when only their children were covered before. Women can no longer be charged higher rates solely because of their gender. People with preexisting conditions can no longer be denied coverage. Americans can make the leap of changing jobs or starting a business without worrying about whether they'll still be able to buy insurance — because now they know they can purchase it on the marketplace. So this is a real accomplishment we should be proud of

As with any piece of major legislation, it's not perfect and would benefit from updates and fixes. One area of the ACA that I am examining is the so-called "Cadillac" tax. As currently structured, I worry that it may create an incentive to substantially lower the value of the benefits package and shift more and more costs to consumers. As President, I would work to ensure that our tax code appropriately advances the health care interests of lower-income and middle class families.

We also need to take steps beyond the ACA. We should crack down on the drug companies that charge too much and the insurance companies that offer too little. And we need to tackling rising out-of-pocket health care costs for consumers across the board.

Q. Do you support initiatives designed to move health insurance coverage away from an employer-based model? If so, what would you propose as an alternative to the current system for covering working adults?

HRC: I've long believed that progress on health care is only possible if there is a principle of shared responsibility among every major actor in our health care system. Employers have always played a critical role in ensuring working families have access to coverage — in fact more than 96% of firms with 50 or more employees already offer health insurance.

Q. Many licensed healthcare professionals, particularly RNs, are leaving hospital service because of difficult working conditions, including excessive and unsafe workloads, understaffing and mandatory overtime. What would you do to address these problems and to improve recruitment and retention of nurses and other healthcare professionals?

HRC: I know that we must address the nursing shortage in this country and give nurses the training, education, and support they need to provide the care patients deserve. We need appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios in order to improve patient care and working conditions for nurses.

I have a history of working for America's nurses. As Senator, I was proud to champion provisions in the Nurse Reinvestment Act that provided significant resources to recruit and train nurses, and I introduced the Nursing Education and Quality of Health Care Act. I believe it is important that all American employees are safe and protected where they work In particular, I believe that we need to consider the effects of ergonomic hazards in order to quickly and effectively address musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. I know that this is a problem for nurses, who often suffer from back-related injuries as a result of having to move and lift patients.

Q. Merger and acquisition activity continues to consolidate the U.S. healthcare system into the hands of a few corporations, many of which are for-profit. What would you do to ensure competition in the healthcare industry is fair and protects the American consumer?

HRC: The federal government plays a critical role in evaluating and enforcing health care mergers to ensure that they do not stymie competition, burdening consumers with fewer choices and higher prices. Anti-competitive and costly market consolidation in health care or other markets should not be permitted. While the Affordable Care Act created incentives for providers to bettercoordinate care and pass those savings onto consumers, we need to make sure that acquisitions and integration of health care stakeholders will ultimately lower cost growth and increase quality of care. To that end, in addition to providing necessary guidance to health care providers about appropriate and beneficial ways to better integrate their services, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be funded and directed to be ever-vigilant in halting anti-competitive health care arrangements through robust enforcement.

Q. What would you do to ensure that communities have access to public health services?

HRC: I believe we must take full advantage of the movement from volume to value purchasing of health care to encourage much more of a focus on the value of prevention and the imperative of population health. My record shows my dedication to this issue. As Senator, I led a bipartisan coalition to fight for legislation to combat childhood obesity, helped pass legislation to provide extra funding for flu vaccine and proposed legislation that would raise public awareness and speed up production of the vaccine, and proposed legislation to combat diabetes, asthma and HIV/AIDS. As the chairperson of the Superfund and Environmental Health Subcommittee of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, I held the first-ever congressional hearing on environmental justice, bringing much-needed attention to the fact that certain environmental conditions cause health problems, which is often the case in low-income or underserved communities. Following the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, providers are being more appropriately rewarded on their success in ensuring wellness and good health and not on unnecessary, wasteful, expensive and, all-too-frequently, dangerous health care interventions. By focusing on prevention and the necessity of population health, we have a real opportunity to finally make long-overdue inroads in the public's health.

AFT: An administration's economic policy has far-reaching implications for the United States and the world. It also says a great deal about a president's priorities and general philosophy about the federal government's responsibility to its citizens.

Q. What are your priorities for revitalizing the economy, strengthening the middle class, creating jobs and ensuring fair taxation? How would your plan help restore funding for education, healthcare, transportation, public safety and many other services provided to our citizens?

HRC: I want to make being middle-class mean something again. I'm going to take on four big fights in this campaign: (1) building an economy for tomorrow, instead of yesterday; (2) strengthening our families and communities; (3) fixing our broken political system; (4) protecting our country from threats.

I will lay out a number of new ideas over the course of the campaign, including helping small businesses create jobs, making college more affordable, raising workers' wages and reducing cost pressures on families, balancing work and family, helping workers get the skills they need to get ahead in a changing economy, and making sure all our kids have the chance to live up to their God-given potential.

Q. The United States has a $3.2 trillion infrastructure deficit according to the American Society of Civil Engineers—and that's just for repairs. What are the mechanisms (e.g., public, private, infrastructure bank) through which we can fund the rebuilding of this country, including the necessary renovation and modernization of our public schools, hospitals and public buildings?

HRC: Ordinary Americans can't afford failing to invest in our infrastructure. If we don't repair our roads and bridges, and upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century, it's harder for Americans to get to work, and for our businesses to grow and compete. It's time for us to invest in America. That means Congress must make the investments we need in our roads and highways and that means leveraging investment by the private sector as well. I will be laying out my own proposals on how to leverage both public and private sources of funding and creative financing mechanisms to address America's infrastructure needs.

Q. What would your administration do to build and strengthen retirement security for all working men and women, including protecting employees' pensions? What is your plan for sustaining and strengthening Social Security and Medicare?

HRC: Let me start by saying I've fought to defend Social Security for years, including when the Bush Administration tried to privatize it. We need to keep defending it from attacks and enhance it to meet new realities. I'm especially focused on the fact that we need to improve how Social Security works for women. I also want to enhance benefits for our most vulnerable seniors. We need to reject years of Republican myth-making that claims we cannot afford it and that the only solution must therefore be to cut benefits.

I will continue to oppose Republican efforts that seek to privatize or gut Medicare.

We need a broader strategy to help Americans with their retirement security. I will have ideas on that.

Q. What are your views on the privatization and contracting out of public services, including school services and state and local government services?

HRC: I do not believe that we should be contracting, outsourcing, or privatizing work that is inherently governmental in nature, including school services and state and local government services. In the Senate, I helped secure a measure that became law that blocked the Bush administration from downsizing the Federal Protective Service. I cosponsored legislation to protect city and rural letter carriers from having their work contracted out by the U.S. Postal Service to private firms and individuals. Lastly, I was an original cosponsor of the Honest Leadership and Accountability in Contracting Act.

AFT: Labor unions give workers a collective voice in the workplace and are integral to the social and economic health of our country. AFT members are interested in knowing your views on the role of labor unions.

Q. Current federal laws and policies encourage and promote collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Act. What are your views on collective bargaining for the private and public sectors? What is your view regarding agency fee and so-called right-to-work laws?

HRC: The right to organize is one of our most fundamental human rights. I believe that unions are critical to a strong American middle class. Throughout my career, I have stood with all workers as they exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively and was an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. I'm talking to a lot of labor leaders and labor economists about what the next president can do to support 21st century organizing and collective bargaining.

Q. As president, what would you do to: (a) prevent employers from intimidating and harassing workers who support union representation, (b) ensure that workers are free to organize and bargain in the workplace, and (c) protect the rights of American workers?

HRC: Throughout my career, I have stood with all workers as they exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively and am an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. I actively opposed anti-collective bargaining provisions contained in the Department of Defense's proposed National Security Personnel System and have voted in favor of collective bargaining rights for TSA screeners. It is also vital that we modernize basic labor standards. Worker protections and basic labor standards have failed to keep pace with changes over the past half century. We need to raise wages and reduce poverty among working families, including raising the minimum wage, eradicating wage theft, promoting collective bargaining, updating overtime protections, ensuring that employers do not misclassify, true employees as "independent contractors" to skirt their obligations, and leveling the playing field for women and people of color.

Q. The federal government has direct responsibility for setting labor standards. There has been a growing call for changes to those standards, including paid sick days, paid family leave and higher minimum wages. What changes, if any, would you prioritize?

HRC: Experience shows that policies that are good for middle-class families are good for everyone—including businesses. These policies are pro-growth, and pro-family, and that's a pretty good twofer.

It is long past time for the U.S. to join every other nation in the developed world in having paid leave, which is critical to ensuring that workers do not have to choose between caring for their family and keeping a job. I'm not under any illusions that this will be easy. We had to fight for years to pass the unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act, and the day my husband signed that law was a day I'll never forget. I look forward to talking about how we move forward on this.

I have fought to raise the minimum wage for many years, and I strongly support the fast food workers and others who are out there asking for a living wage and a fair shot at success. A higher minimum wage doesn't just help those at the bottom of the pay scale, it has a ripple effect across the economy and helps millions of American workers and middle class families. As we work to raise the federal minimum wage, we should also support state and local efforts to go above the federal floor where it makes sense to do so.

Q. More than 8 million public employees in 25 states currently have no OSHA protection or entitlement to a safe and healthful workplace. Do you support universal OSHA coverage for all public employees?

HRC: I believe it is important that American employees are safe and protected where they work In the decades since OSHA has been enacted, we've made great strides in strengthening the safety of work environments for our workers. But there are improvements that need to be made. In particular, too few workers are protected by OSHA. That's why in the Senate I was an original cosponsor of the Protecting America's Workers Act, which would extend OSHA protections to all federal, state, and local public employees.

AFT: The AFT and our members are champions of fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement. Our members are interested in knowing your views on the following important community issues:

Q. What policies would your administration pursue to ensure that all people—regardless of who they are, where they live or where they come from—are able to climb the ladder of opportunity and participate fully in our economy and democracy?

HRC: Today, there are nearly 6 million young people in America who are out of school and out of work The unemployment rate for this rising generation is double what it is for the rest of the population. It wasn't like that in 2000. Young people were getting jobs, they were climbing the ladder of opportunity. Millions more of our young people are underemployed because the jobs that are available just aren't sufficient. They don't offer the kind of income and growth potential that should be more broadly accessible. For young people of color things are even harder. And if you don't have a college degree or didn't graduate from high school, most doors just aren't open, no matter how hard you knock.

That is why education at all levels—from birth through higher education—is so important to helping all people climb that ladder of opportunity. I have worked hard throughout my career to make sure that every child gets a chance to develop his or her mental capacity by developing their brain from the very earliest age, because if your vocabulary is so far behind by the time you're five years old, through no fault of your own but because the adults in your life are sobusy, so stressed or don't know how you build brain cells, by talking and singing and reading to babies, then you enter kindergarten having heard 30 million less words than a child from one of our families. And that's very hard to overcome. It's not that when you're 18 you're not trying, it's when you're five you were already left behind.

Q. In your opinion, what are the elements of comprehensive immigration reform? How would your administration's stance on immigration reform fight back against inequality, promote economic justice and increase wages for all workers?

HRC: I support comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and a path to citizenship not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it strengthens families, strengthens our economy, and strengthens our country. I was a strong supporter of CIR as a Senator, cosponsoring Senator Ted Kennedy's 2004 bill and supporting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act in 2006 and 2007. In 2003, 2005 and 2007, I cosponsored the Dream Act in the Senate. I also support President Obama's DACA/DAPA executive actions. And if Congress continues to refuse to act, as President I would do everything possible under the law to go even further.

Q. What are your views on campaign finance reform? Do you support a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision?

HRC: We have to reduce the influence of big money in politics. As I said recently, I support a constitutional amendment to get unaccountable money out of politics.

Q. What would your administration do to ensure that voting in elections is free, fair and available to all Americans? Do you oppose policies that restrict access to voting and voter registration?

HRC: As I said recently, the assault on voting rights threatens to block millions of Americans from fully participating in our democracy. We need to fix the holes opened up by the Supreme Court's ruling. Congress should pass legislation to replace those portions of the act that the Court struck down, and as President I would work to ensure that all citizens have the information and access they need to fully participate in our democracy.


Q. What do you think this nation's priorities should be during the next decade? How would your presidency advance those priorities?

HRC: I am committed to being a champion for everyday Americans and American families. That's what I've been devoted to my entire adult life, starting with my first job out of law school when I went to work for the Children's Defense Fund, all the way through to the work that I did as Secretary of State promoting women's rights, promoting the rights of people who would otherwise be marginalized or left on the sidelines. And I know that although we have begun to move forward again, it is still hard to imagine exactly how we're going to get to the point where people are not just getting by but getting ahead again and staying ahead. Because the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.

We have to be focused on how we're going to bring about the changes that will ignite opportunity for everybody willing to work hard for it again. We have to build an economy that's innovative, sustainable, and producing good jobs with rising wages. We need to actually reward workers with increases in their paychecks for the increases in productivity and profitability.

It's also imperative that we give people the tools through education and job training, so that they can make the most out of their own lives. And for me that starts at the very beginning. I have been a child advocate and a child development proponent for my entire adult life, because it's what I really care about and believe in. Then we have to make sure that we are doing all we can to empower our educators, to make sure that they have the support of parents so that they can do the job they have been trained to do to help prepare our kids. And then we've got to make sure that college is affordable.

One of the biggest stresses in anybody's life is healthcare. I'm going to support and defend the Affordable Care Act, and I will work to fix those parts of it that need fixing. But, we have made a great step forward as a nation to provide a mechanism for people to get access to healthcare, some for the first time.

We also have to address the unaccountable dark money in politics. I think the Supreme Court made a grave error with its Citizens United decision. And I will do everything I can do to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will protect the right to vote and not the right of billionaires to buy elections.

Finally, we have challenges around the world. But we have to be confident and strong in understanding that there are many ways to approach the problems that America will be confronting in the world, and we must do so in cooperation with our friends, our allies, our fellow democracies around the world. I am convinced that the 21st century can once again be a century in which the United States leads and helps to set the values and standards.