Started in: 2010
Founder: Michelle Rhee
Michelle Rhee's salary: about $300,000 from StudentsFirst + profit from book sales + speaking fees of $50,000 per event
StudentsFirst budget: $??? (unknown because they funnel money through so many of their organizations)
Funding from: billionaire foundations, corporate investors, and hedge fund managers
Staff: 50+ people
Spent in TN to influence TN legislators: over $525,000
Headquarters: California (with offices in 16 states)
StudentsFirst does not put students, first.
They put PROFITS and POLITICIANS first.
As StudentsFirst pretends to support children, StudentsFirst attacks the very teachers and school environments that nurture and educate children. Through millions of dollars from corporate interests, StudentsFirst influences campaigns and laws that benefit their wealthy supporters.
In Tennessee, StudentsFirst by far leads the pack of outside funding to influence elections and legislators. Why is an organization in California spending so much money in Tennessee? or any state? Because of the huuuuge profit to be reaped with public tax dollars by turning our public schools into profitable charter schools.
StudentsFirst has publicly celebrated budget cuts to school systems and announced its intent to do away with locally elected school boards, particularly those in urban areas. Why? School boards are the gatekeepers of taxpayer dollars, made up of locally elected individuals representing the people who pay those tax dollars. Without pesky school boards in place, StudentsFirst has far less accountability and can funnel all of its resources into the campaigns of just a few city and state leaders who agree with its agenda. That way, they can have more control no real checks in place. Why focus on urban school boards? Because urban school districts have more students (ie, more $), more per pupil spending (in general), and less-involved parents to protest (in general).
Here is what StudentsFirst supports with its money and paid lobbyists:
- privatizing our public schools by turning them into profit-generating charter schools
- getting rid of locally elected school boards
- decreasing teacher pay
- testing kids with lots of expensive tests
- common core standards
- using test scores to fire teachers
- using test scores to close neighborhood schools
- hiring cheaper inexperienced teachers that don't have teaching licenses
- eroding trust in teachers and public schools with manipulated test scores
(according to an article by John Merrow):
• "Six years after Michelle Rhee rode into town, the public schools seem to be worse off by almost every conceivable measure."
• With tight security after the cheating scandal, math and reading scores have plunged more than 40 percentile points.
• Half of all newly hired teachers leave within 2 years. "It has been a revolving door for principals as well."
• The per pupil expenditure has increased 27%, and the district has lost 13% of its students.
• "The most disturbing effect of Ms. Rhee’s reform effort is the widening gap in academic performance between low-income and upper-income students, a meaningful statistic in Washington, where race and income are highly correlated."
With all that money in their coffers, we can't help but wonder what would happen if StudentsFirst used the money on students, first? Use it for things that have been PROVEN to help students succeed, like:
- smaller class sizes
- teacher training
- funding for art, music, PE, sports, enrichment, etc. (like private schools and nations with higher test scores have).
- Heck, even basic supplies for our schools like copy paper, tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper would be better than what they're spending all that money on! (Yes, some schools in TN really have asked parents to send in toilet paper).
"Students LAST, after we take care of our corporate investors."