Chicago Tribune – Michelle Rhee targeting U.S. schools, backed by big bucks

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Great article from Reuters, published in the Chicago Tribune, takes a look at the money trail behind Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst. The piece highlights her unproven policy objectives and her alignment with Wall Street and extreme politicians like Florida’s Rick Scott and Ohio’s John Kasich.

StudentsFirst has its own political action committee (PAC), its own SuperPAC, and a staff of 75, including a cadre of seasoned lobbyists Rhee sends from state to state as political battles heat up. She has flooded the airwaves with TV and radio ads in a half dozen states weighing new policies on charter schools, teacher assessment and other hot-button issues.

To her supporters, Rhee is a once-in-a-generation leader who has the smarts and the star power to make a difference on one of the nation’s most intractable public policy issues.

But critics say Rhee risks destroying the very public schools she aims to save by forging alliances with political conservatives, evangelical groups and business interests that favor turning a large chunk of public education over to the private sector. She won’t disclose her donors, but public records indicate that they include billionaire financiers and wealthy foundations.

[…]

In New Jersey, the state affiliate of StudentsFirst can count on nearly unlimited support from hedge-fund managers David Tepper and Alan Fournier, the executive director said. Tepper and Fournier are also substantial donors to the PAC backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Both men declined to comment.

“There is no budget,” said the state director, Derrell Bradford. “They are willing to spend whatever it takes.”

On a smaller scale, Charter Schools USA, one of the largest for-profit charter school management companies in the nation, gave Rhee’s group $5,000 last year after honoring her as a “New American Hero,” a spokeswoman for the outfit said.

[…]

In Michigan, StudentsFirst spent $955,000 last fall to push an education package that included evaluating teachers primarily by student test scores and restricting union bargaining rights (so issues like the new evaluation system would not be subject to negotiation).

[…]

Rhee has also stirred concern among education activists with her links to conservative, anti-union Republicans – notably governors Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, and Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Democrats who have been working on their own to advance many of Rhee’s ideas complain that they’re finding it harder to win over members of their party because Rhee has made the entire reform platform look like a far-right agenda.

Visit the Chicago Tribune to read the complete article.

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