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StudentsFirst Raises $7.6 million in 2010-11


The education advocacy group StudentsFirst seems to have raised about $7.6 million between its founding in October 2010 and July 2011, according to tax forms released today by the group.

The much-awaited figures are reported on StudentsFirst's 990s, the forms that all nonprofits claiming tax-exempt status must file annually with the Internal Revenue Service.

StudentsFirst is actually two related organizations: a 501(c)3, which engages in "educational" activities, and a 501(c)4, which can also lobby and do a limited amount of partisan political work. It has to file separate 990s for each of them, though the two entities share staff and mailing lists, among other things. (Education Week examined the rising influence of school-focused interest groups like Students First, Stand for Children, and Democrats for Education Reform in a series of stories earlier this year, titled The Changing Face of Education Advocacy.)

According to the 990s, the (c)3 has raised about $3 million and the (c)4 about $4.6 million.

And what did they spend money on? This kind of reporting is notoriously difficult to parse, but it appears that the 501(c)3 entity, known as StudentsFirst Institute, spent $2 million getting the group's education program up and running, including staging events and meetings, writing articles, getting its website up and running, and other outreach.

The 501(c)4 spent about $3.2 million on advocacy, including legislative activities and organizing. Of that figure, it reports spending $142,000 on lobbying and a much larger amount of $1.5 million on "advertising and promotion."

This is such a large sum that it seems likely to include some of the group's issue-based advertising—on teacher evaluation for instance—and possibly independent expenditures related to campaigns. (501(c)4s are permitted to engage in these political expenditures, which must not be coordinated with candidates.) I've reached out to StudentsFirst to confirm this. Updated, 6/26: A StudentsFirst source confirmed that issue-based advertisements, but not independent expenditures, fall in this category.

It also spent $337,000 on "list development," which appears to be related to its membership, and $100,000 on a grant to the Partnership for Ohio's future, a 501(c)4 set up by the state's Chamber of Commerce that apparently has backed some of Gov. John Kasich's budget plans.

Neither (c)3s nor (c)4s are required to disclose their donors, and StudentsFirst has been quite tight-lipped about how it's been funded.

The $7.6 million figure shows the group still has a ways to go before reaching its $1 billion-in-five-years fundraising goal. But these figures, of course, represent a time period during which the organization was still nascent and may not yet have established its "brand."

Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.

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