Odds & Ends from EdWeek’s Campaign Finance Project

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 04, 2012 2 min read
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A while back, I promised to bring you other tidbits that didn’t make it into our recent education advocacy/campaign-finance series. Without further ado:

• Have you ever wondered why the StudentsFirst group, run by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, doesn’t have a space between the two words that make up its name? It could be because there are already other organizations with that name already out there in the states. Over the course of our reporting, we turned up at least two more: a Louisiana Students First, an independent-expenditure group begun by the daughter of a building executive who has spent heavily on Baton Rouge school board races.

A second Students First is actually a political action committee operated by the pro-voucher American Federation for Children group. Neither of these two organizations is connected to Rhee’s group. Confusingly, however, Rhee did speak at the AFC’s national summit last year.

• Education Reform Now Advocacy, a group affiliated with the Democrats for Education Reform political action committee, will team up with StudentsFirstNY to create a statewide coalition called the New York State Education Reform Council. This group, which is expected to play a major role in New York City’s 2013 mayoral contest, is being called the “Death Star” by some wags critical of the group. (I’ll let you consider who gets to play the Yoda, Obi Wan, and Princess Leia roles.)

• We did not end up featuring Seattle in our series of stories, but that is another district in which education campaign spending appears to be on the rise. Stand for Children endorsed candidates in a school board race there in 2011 and spent about $1,600 in total in support of its candidates. (The Washington Education Association, by contrast, spent more than $11,000 on its candidates.)

But the most interesting thing of all was that while digging through the campaign-finance records for the 2011 board elections in Seattle, we found some interesting names. For example, incumbent Sherry Carr, who won her race, received some fairly large donations from a number of folks tied to Bill Gates: $5,000 from Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes and his wife, and $1,500 from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, and $500 from Gates himself. Both the company and foundation are based in Seattle. (We ourselves at Education Week get Gates money.)

We don’t, of course, know why these individuals chose to donate to these races, but it is likely another illustration of the networks of like-minded individuals that have sprung up in support of various education policies. You can read more on that phenomenon in this story from my colleague Sean Cavanagh.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.