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Michelle Rhee's Ed Reform Group Powers Down Five State Affiliates

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By Andrew Ujifusa. Cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog.

StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has expanded at a steady pace into many states over the last few years, but the group has confirmed over the last week that it's ending the work of paid staff in five states: Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota.

In Florida, as reported by Travis Pillow at RedefinED on July 7, StudentsFirst will maintain only a "nominal presence," while pulling the plug on its core policy work. Then on July 9, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported a similar situation in Minnesota—StudentsFirst's state affiliate will no longer maintain a paid staff there

The reasons for these decisions can vary from state to state, however.

Indeed, Florida seems to have done well enough in meeting StudentsFirst's policy priorities that the group no longer considers the state in dire need of its attention, according to Pillow's report. As I wrote at the start of 2014, while no state has received an A grade from the group in the two years that StudentsFirst has issued its state policy report card, Florida (along with Louisiana) received a B last year, the highest overall grade given out.

In Minnesota, meanwhile, the director of the group's state affiliate, Kathy Saltzman, indicated that the "continually changing legislative climate" in the state led the group to end its core operations there. (Saltzman said the group would continue to be active in the state through its members, despite the lack of paid staff.)

In an interview, a spokesman for StudentsFirst, Francisco Castillo, said scaling back the group in five states will allow for the organization to focus on other states, and that the number of staff affected was small compared to the overall size of the organization. He said that the group didn't see any more state affiliates closing or scaling back in the near future, and that the group is planning to expand the number of staff working in Alabama and Georgia. 

'We have to look at opportunities to make a positive impact in other states," Castillo said, even though, he added, the group will continue to try to help activists in the five aforementioned states.

Overall, the organization has about 110 employees. And if you exclude the five states I've just discussed, StudentsFirst is officially active in 13 states, according to the group's website.

Read the full story here

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