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Rhee Will Bring New Advocacy Group to Sacramento

By Jeff Hudson - January 27, 2011

One of the nation’s most visible – and many would add controversial – proponents of charter schools and changes to contracts between school districts and teachers unions is setting up shop in California’s state capitol.

In his annual State of the City speech last Thursday, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced that Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, DC school system, will be locating the headquarters of her new advocacy Students First in Sacramento.

The news did not come as a huge surprise: Johnson and Rhee have been engaged to wed for some time. It was widely expected that eventually, they would want to live together in the same city.

In his speech, Johnson said “As you may know, several weeks ago my fiancée Michelle announced the formation of Students First, a national organization that will serve as a counter balance to the teachers unions in this country. She announced that her goal for the first year would be raising one billion dollars and recruiting one million members.”

“She was asked at the launch where the organization would be headquartered,” Johnson said, adding (with a twinkle in his eye) that “She said that while many big city mayors had come a’ courting that the Mayor of Sacramento had made the most aggressive overtures. And I’m not ashamed to say that I pulled out all the stops and utilized every means I had, but I managed to snag her.”

Johnson – a former basketball star who spearheaded the St. HOPE charter school’s takeover of Sacramento High School, which Johnson attended as a teenager – added that Students First will have yearly operating budget of $200 million, which he felt would be an asset to the Sacramento economy.

On Monday, Rhee went to Carson City – the state capital of Nevada – as a special guest of newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval, to hear Sandoval’s State of the State speech.  Sandoval has proposed a state budget that includes a total of $1.6 billion in spending cuts, including a 5 percent salary reduction for state workers, teachers and professors; a near 9 percent cut in K-12 spending; and a 22 percent cut to higher education, while allowing universities to raise tuition to make up the difference. Sandoval is also proposing an end to teacher tenure. He also wants to end “social promotion” of students to higher grades, and wants to give parents the option of vouchers if they want to transfer their children to private schools.

Rhee has indicated that Students First will be active in Nevada.

During her years in Washington, Rhee raised the hackles of the teachers union with several of her statements and actions. She came in for some criticism from teachers as a “divisive” figure. In recent weeks, Rhee has written op-ed pieces for newspapers and made appearances on television discussing education issues.

Rhee will have a natural ally in her new home.  Former State Senator Gloria Romero (an unsuccessful candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction last year, and author of last year’s Parent Trigger legislation in California) is heading the new California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.