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 dollars 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.

  • Joseph, Thank you for exposing Students First and Michelle Rhee. I try to educate retirees re. Michelle’s group which I call the “Five Week Wonders.” You would be surprised how many retired and active educators don’t know who and what is controling their furures. They stick their head in the sand and expect others to look out for them. Trouble is, a lot of times those “others” just don’t seem to give a damn…..just like many of the educators!

  • kmo

    Yes, I agree with John; thank you for this informative article on a topic that just keeps coming back in various forms. Why does the Chamber have such strong views on education? One would think they would have enough to do just managing business concerns. The only thing I in my limited ability to understand their mindset is that their answer to any public service is to privatize it, therefore making a sizable profit for a few CEO’s. Why not the same fervor for reforming wall street and banks as this would more directly impact the business world?

  • anastasjoy

    It was the Chamber, working in the guise of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (basically a U.S. Chamber front group), that wrote and pushed for the Cleveland “transformation” plan, and blackmailed some elected Democrats and the teachers union into supporting it. The Greater Cleveland Partnership was one of the most vocal SB 5 supporters, giving at least $100,000 to the Yes on 2 campaign. I believe the so-called “transformation” plan is a cynical ploy, leading with good things people support (like expanding pre-K) that will never be funded and then lobbing the bomb: a bunch of attacks on teachers, not one of which has been shown to improve education. As for Rhee, can we officially give up the pretense that she is nonpartisan, bipartisan or even, some people claim, really a Democrat? She is a tool of the most radical right-wing anti-public school forces. She is a despicable woman.

  • when the Cleveland “transformation plan ” shows to not work where will these people be then? Where will our children be? and where will all teachers who spent their lives up to this time be? Oh ya, and where will “superman” be? And will anyone learn from this lesson?

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