Huffington Post education reporter Joy Resmovits tracked down Michelle Rhee’s financiers earlier this month. They include two who’ve pulled their support for DCPS once Rhee left to go solo.
Until now, identifying Rhee’s usually anonymous donors has been largely a guessing game. But recent lobbying filings in Pennsylvania name New Jersey hedge funder and Romney backer David Tepper and the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation as among the largest donors to StudentsFirst, Rhee’s national lobbying and advocacy group that pushes for rigorous teacher evaluations and school choice. And though the filings don’t give dollar amounts, a source close to the donor community said the Arnold grant amounted to tens of millions of dollars.
In addition to Arnold, an another former DCPS donor, Eli Broad, has indicated that his foundation contributed $500,000 in start-up to Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
An additional donor to StudentsFirst is The Broad Foundation, the philanthropy run by Eli and Edythe Broad that puts billions into education reform causes such as charter schools and parent unions. Erica Lepping, a Broad spokesperson, confirmed that one year ago, the foundation contributed $500,000 in startup costs to StudentsFirst. “We’ve been in discussions with them since, regarding how we may be further able to support their work,” Lepping added in an email.
Bill Torque’s Washington Post story this weekend revealed that Arnold and Broad had helped fund DCPS’ merit pay system under Rhee, but no longer do so. Paying for that mandate is now left to taxpayers. Part of Rhee’s overall education reform prescription is for philanthropists – like Broad and Arnold – to provide grant funding for the merit pay schemes she’s selling in state capitals across the country. She uses her DCPS tenure as her calling card. Rhee told Floridians that the Arnold’s and Broad’s of the world have “significant interest” in investing in such areas. She just never said they would only do it for a limited period of time before leaving the bill with cash-strapped school districts.