Records obtained by Plunderbund reveal that a branch of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce received a huge grant from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst just as they started ramping up lobbying efforts to promote anti-teacher legislation in Ohio.
According to the Form 990 filed by StudentsFirst, a $100,000 grant was given to the Partnership for Ohio’s Future, a 501(c)(4) formed and operated by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The group’s website lists an email address at the Chamber for contact information, and the Partnership’s mailing address is the same as the Chamber’s.
You may remember that Rhee, a controversial figure in the education world, was spending a lot of time in Ohio in early 2011, just as Kasich and the legislature started working on SB5 and Kasich’s budget. This is no coincidence.
Rhee was in Ohio publicly supporting Kasich’s agenda at widely publicized events like the screening of “Waiting for Superman”. Showings of the movie, an anti-public school
documentary hit piece in which Rhee appears, were being promoted by severely right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity and sponsored by The Ohio Chamber of Commerce – which we now know was receiving funding directly from Rhee’s organization.
The Chamber has long supported Kasich’s agenda with its own PR and its own cash, and the big money from Rhee’s organization helped them promote her cause while continuing to help out the governor.
Behind the scenes, Rhee’s organization was also working hard trying to directly influence legislation.
In January of 2011, Rhee’s group started hiring lobbyists to pressure the legislature to pass anti-teacher “merit-pay” and teacher retesting laws, and their first hire was Kasich’s long-time friend Robert Klafky.
According to The Ohio Joint Legislative Ethics Committee (JLEC), Klaffky started working for StudentsFirst in January and his focus included SB5, the controversial and eventually overturned collective bargaining bill, and HB 153, Kasich’s Budget. According to Klaffky, he worked primarily on teacher “merit pay” issues in these bills.
Later in the year, StudentsFirst hired two additional lobbyists: Bridget Davis and Chad Aldis. Aldis continues working for them today and JLEC shows his focus is on on pro-charter/private school legislation including the Cleveland school reform plan that hurts teachers and gives local tax money to charters.
Rhee’s initial lobbying paid off – kind of. After giving indirectly to help Governor Kasich’s budget she went on the road for him. She also hired multiple lobbyists and pushed for multiple bills. And while the State Senate removed the controversial “merit pay” and teacher retesting language from Kasich’s original budget, lighter versions of both were added back in during conference committee. And no doubt there is more to come.
Rhee is on a roll. StudentsFirst is reportedly on track to raise hundreds of millions of dollar over the next year from anti-public school advocates and billionaire hedge fund managers. And they plan to put that money into state-based efforts like the one in Ohio. Given what happened here last year, and the amount of money available, I have no doubt that Kasich, Ohio’s Republican legislators, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and all of Kasich’s lobbying friends, will continue falling all over themselves to help Rhee out.