Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and arguably the most polarizing figure in American education, will share a podium with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma this month at a rally in support of charter schools.
The rally, at 11:30 a.m. on March 30 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, is being organized by the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association. It’s aimed at showing support for House Bill 1002, legislation that could dramatically increase the number of charter schools in Indiana.
The House approved the bill on a mostly party-line vote – Republicans for, Democrats against. It’s now being considered by the Senate, along with several other education-related measures pushed by Daniels and Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett.
It expands sponsorship of charter schools to private, nonprofit colleges and universities and a state charter-schools board; lifts a cap on the number of charter schools sponsored by the mayor of Indianapolis; and allows up to 25 percent of full-time teachers in a charter school to be unlicensed (down from 50 percent in a previous measure). It also establishes procedures for charter schools to lease unused public-school facilities for $1 a year.
Rhee became the darling of education reform advocates with her take-no-prisoners approach to battling the American Federation of Teachers while she was D.C. schools chancellor. It won her a Time magazine cover and a starring role in the documentary film Waiting for “Superman.” She quit the job when her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his job in the Democratic primary last fall.
Rhee then founded a group called StudentsFirst, which intends to spend an astounding $200 million a year on education-related political advocacy. A Democrat, she has been consorting recently with Republican governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Florida’s Rick Scott, Ohio’s John Kasich – and now Indiana’s Daniels.
Andrew Rice has an excellent story about Rhee and the national education debate in the current issue of New York magazine. Noting that public opinion may have swung back in favor of teachers and unions in response to over-reaching by Wisconsin Gov. Rick Walker and others, Rice concludes that “Rhee could soon learn an important lesson of politics: Your allies can damage you as much as your enemies.”