Apparently, StudentsFirst is continuing its focus on Tennessee. (Note prior post HERE.)
The following is a news release from the organization distributed Tuesday:
Nashville, TN – StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots education reform movement, announced three new hires today as the organization expands grassroots momentum in Tennessee. The new additions include Carter Maxwell, who will serve as the State Outreach Director and Mario King, the Shelby County Field Coordinator. They join Paige Donaldson, who was brought on in February to serve as Field Coordinator for Middle Tennessee.
“We’re lucky to have three passionate individuals who know and love the state leading our grassroots efforts in Tennessee,” said Kellen Arno, VP of Membership at StudentsFirst. “As we continue to grow our movement and build momentum in the Volunteer state, we’re bringing together an incredibly strong team to help elevate the stories of parents and teachers on the local level.”
New Republic has an interesting, Tennessee-focused article on Michelle Rhee and StudentsFrist’s efforts in the state where her ex-husband is commissioner of education. Lots of attention to Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, who got a big chunk of StudentsFirst money in his re-election campaign.
An excerpt: Nowhere has her influence been felt more acutely than in Tennessee, where campaigns are a bargain and where legislators eager to amend the state’s dismal record on education have made it a mecca for reformers. To Rhee the mission also has a personal angle: Her ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is commissioner of the state Department of Education and her two daughters attend school in Nashville.
In 2011-2012, her group spent $533,000 on over 60 local politicians, outspending the main teachers’ union by a third and becoming Tennessee’s biggest source of campaign money outside of the party PACs, according to election filings. Added to the $200,000-$300,000 that allied groups like Stand for Children and the Tennessee Federation for Children paid out, the result has been a gush of education-reform money taking over the state’s politics.
“They’ve become like the gun lobby in Tennessee,” a former aide to a top Nashville politician told me. “Everybody is scared of the NRA. It’s the same way with these education reform people.”
…Though the group does not disclose its donors, public filings reveal that much of its money comes from hedge fund titans. On April 30, the Walton Family Foundation announced it would give Rhee $8 million over the next two years. Rhee hinted in her book that leveraged-buyout king Ted Forstmann had pledged tens of millions as well.
In Tennessee, StudentsFirst gave money to more candidates–55 legislative and nine school board candidates–than it did in any other state this past election cycle. Of those 55 candidates, though, only seven were Democrats. StudentsFirst spokesperson Hari Sevugan (who has since quit the organization) told me last year that this was simply a fact of politics in Tennessee, where the GOP controls two-thirds of both houses in the General Assembly. But nationwide, Rhee has had trouble finding Democrats to stand with her. Of the 105 candidates across 12 states that she supported in general elections in 2012, 92 were Republican.
These lopsided numbers bolster the left’s loudest complaint about Rhee of late: Though she claims Democratic values and the bipartisan mantle, Republicans dominate the ranks of StudentsFirst’s donors and of those it donates to. Rhee blames the imbalance on a lack of courage among Democrats, telling newspapers that many had pledged their support privately but refused to go public for fear of reprisals from the teachers’ unions. But those Democrats willing to align themselvse with her cause often find themselves lavishly rewarded.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Michele Johnson has been named the new executive director of a Nashville group that supports greater access to Medicaid.
Johnson will succeed Gordon Bonnyman at the Tennessee Justice Center at the end of the year.
Bonnyman and Johnson co-founded the organization 17 years ago to advocate for Tennessee’s vulnerable population, particularly those struggling to find access to health care.
Johnson is nationally known for her legal work with children who have special health care needs.
Responding to an online petition drive launched by an 11-year-old Oak Ridge boy, StudentsFirst has rescinded its designation of state Rep. John Ragan as a ‘reformer of the year” because he sponsored the so-called “the don’t say gay bill.”
“Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a “Reformer of the Year” by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 — which would have cultivated a culture of bullying — does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition,” wrote Michelle Rhee, founder and president of StudentsFirst in a post on the education reform organization’s website.
“Simply put, we must hold our “Reformers of the Year” to a higher standard. So let me be very clear — policies that are intended to single out any student based on their sexual orientation and treat them differently are wrong,” Rhee said.
The rescission of Ragan’s recognition by the group Wednesday came five days after Marcel Neergaard, 11, and his parents started a petition at MoveOn.org urging StudentsFirst to do so. On Thursday afternoon, it had collected 55,034 supporters.
First lady Michelle Obama doled out hugs and quick words of encouragement as each of 170 Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High graduates walked the stage Saturday in Nashville, creating an unforgettable milestone for them, reports The Tennessean. But it was no less a milestone for Ruth Coffman, 92, introduced to the crowd as the oldest graduate of segregated Pearl High, which later became the academic magnet school it is today. She was there to celebrate the by graduation of two great-grandchildren and wonder at the nation’s first African-American first lady.
“That was a thrill for me, because I am the great-granddaughter of a slave,” Coffman said. “I am thrilled and blessed to be here. I’m so glad God gave them brains to be in this magnificent Martin Luther King school.”
MLK’s graduation, held in the Gentry Center at Tennessee State by University, was the only high school commencement where Obama spoke this year, she said in her address. It was chosen, she said, because of its history and emergence as one of the nation’s top-ranked public schools.
“This school is truly the realization of the dream of educational empowerment for all, a dream that began 130 years ago, back when your Pearl building first opened its doors as a school for young African-Americans,” Obama said. “And since that building became home to MLK, students from every background, every culture, every ZIP code throughout Nashville have walked through your halls each day to read and to write, and to think and to dream.”
The idea for Obama’s visit originated with a school counselor and took flight with the help of a congressman (Jim Cooper).
Note: Text of Michelle Obama’s remarks below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Michelle Obama will be the guest speaker at a Nashville public school’s graduation exercise next month.
The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools announced Thursday that the first lady will address the graduating class at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School on May 18.
Principal Schunn Turner made the announcement to students Thursday morning and the first lady announced her plans in a video played for the school.
There are no public tickets for the event.
The high school has nearly 1,200 students in grades 7 through 12 with a curriculum that emphasizes mathematics and science.
Michelle Rhee says Tennessee would be a priority in her $1 billion nationwide effort to transform education policy at the state level, even if she and the state’s education commissioner did not have two daughters in public schools here.
StudentsFirst, which Rhee founded and heads, has the goal of raising and spending the $1 billion over a five-year period. In Tennessee, the group is well on its way with about $900,000 in spending on political contributions and lobbying during just over a year of operating within the state.
“I pay attention to Tennessee because I live here, No. 1, and because I have children in school here,” Rhee said in an interview last week. “But I would be paying attention even if I didn’t simply because of the courage the governor and the legislators have shown to date (in education reform efforts).”
Actually, Tennessee ranked 11th among states in a StudentsFirst “report card” issued last week that rated states on their education policy as the organizations thinks it should be. Rhee said that, if the 2013 legislative session goes as she would like, Tennessee could “catapult to a much higher rating.”
By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — First lady Michelle Obama brought an audience of 10,000 African Methodist Episcopal Church members to their feet Thursday as she exhorted them to get involved in the issues that affect their lives.
Speaking at the AME Church’s 49th General Conference in Nashville, Obama praised the church for its role in fighting slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks, but she told them the struggle is not over.
It can be difficult to address challenges like childhood obesity, poor schools and unsafe neighborhoods, she said.
“The path forward for the next generation can be far from clear,” she said.
But she told the crowd that laws still matter and still shape our lives.
From the White House Communications Office:
Remarks by the First Lady at the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference at Gaylord Opryland Resort, Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, June 27, 2012:
11:05 A.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my, my, my. (Applause.) Please, you all rest yourselves. Thank you so much. Let me tell you, it is such a pleasure and an honor to join you today in Nashville for your 2012 General Conference.
I want to start by thanking Bishop McKenzie for her introduction. And I want to honor her for the history she’s made —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen!
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely. (Applause.) For the example she has set and for her inspired leadership in this church.
I also want to thank Mayor Dean for his service to this city and for taking the time to join us here today.
And finally, I want to thank all of the bishops, pastors, and lay leaders in AME churches here in America and around the world. (Applause.)
You all are part of a proud tradition, one that dates back to the founding of that first AME Church and the founding of this nation and has shaped its history every day since. You all know the story — how back in the late 1700s, a man named Richard Allen bought his freedom from slavery — (applause) — became a minister, and eventually founded a Methodist church called Bethel Church – or “Mother Bethel” as we know it today. That first AME church was located in a blacksmith’s shop, and that first congregation had just a few dozen members.
But there’s a reason why one pastor called Bethel’s founding “a Liberty bell for black folks.” (Applause.) There’s a reason why W.E.B. Dubois said that Bethel Church “belongs to the history of the nation rather than to any one city.”
st lady Michelle Obama will split her time in Tennessee between the state’s two largest cities Thursday, speaking to about 10,000 delegates at the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s conference in Nashville before heading to a Memphis fundraising event for her husband’s re-election campaign in the afternoon.
Further from the Commercial Appeal: Obama was last in Tennessee April 17, when she addressed a fundraiser in Nashville that garnered more than $200,000 for her husband’s campaign. About 250 people are expected to attend Thursday’s event at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, according to a campaign official, with tickets starting at $500 a person.
…In Nashville, the First Lady will deliver the keynote address at the 49th General Conference of the AME Church at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. The AME Church is the nation’s oldest black religious denomination, founded in Philadelphia in 1787. Its general conference is held every four years, when delegates and leaders from around the world discuss, debate and adopt the denomination’s policies and missions.
The AME church has more than 3 million members in about 7,500 churches in North and South America, Europe, Africa and India. This year’s conference is the first held in Nashville since the late 1800s.