Rhee’s group was coordinating with an astroturf organization in Connecticut. (Photo credit: Flickr user angela n.)
Next month, the film Won’t Back Down will be released in theaters nationwide. This drama starring Maggie Gylenhall and Viola Davis — and backed by Walmart and the right-wing Anschutz Film Group — promotes the “parent trigger,” an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) idea that would make it easier for schools to be turned over to private firms and for teachers to be fired.
The Daily Change has obtained documents showing collaboration between StudentsFirst — the group started by the anti-union former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee — and a group in Connecticut, the Connecticut Parents Union (CTPU), that is promoting Won’ t Back Down and ALEC’s parent trigger bill.
On March 14th, Rhee’s group held a rally on the steps of the Connecticut capitol to promote its education “reforms,” including the parent trigger. In doing so, it allied with CTPU. Unfortunately for Rhee and CTPU’s education privatization agenda, very few people showed up to the event. Governor Malloy (D) declined to make an appearance, saying through a spokesman that Rhee had been a “divisive figure.”
The letter we received shows bitter infighting between StudentsFirst and CTPU. In a letter to CTPU, StudentsFirst General Counsel Angelia Dickens complains of the Connecticut astroturf group’s “effort to obtain financial compensation from StudentsFirst.” Dickens notes that StudentsFirst had repeatedly told CTPU founder Gwendolyn Samuel that it will not offer direct payments to her group and that Rhee’s group declined repeated requests from Jason Bartlett, a former state representative that now works with CTPU, to “put him on a financial retainer.”
In short, the letter exposes CTPU as being just as interested in if not more interested in enriching its staffers as it is in improving the state’s education system. But the document also shows StudentsFirst spending tons of cash promoting CTPU’s activities. Dickens notes that StudentsFirst spent $10,000 to promote the March rally, and even paid for 300 sandwiches for attendees (meaning sandwiches outnumbered attendees 3-to-1).
We’re providing the document in its entirety as it was provided to us below:
Schools are one of America’s few remaining public treasures. Powerful interests — like the big corporations like Wal-Mart that will heavily promote Won’t Back Down— are looking to privatize them, and the collaboration between StudentsFirst and the Connecticut Parents Union is just one way they’re trying to make that happen.