Education reform was the major issue of the last legislative session. It took months of discussion among all stakeholders to ensure the legislation we passed would improve education for all children in Connecticut, not just a select few.
You know who wasn’t at the table for that discussion? Michelle Rhee. Two months into the legislative session, Rhee showed up with her anti-teacher organization, Students First, calling for reforms that have been found to be deeply flawed. When it became apparent that no one was interested in her faulty ideas, Rhee quickly formed a front group called Great New England Public Schools Alliance (GNEPSA) which spent over $800,000 trying to pass education reforms no one wanted.
Rhee lost but she didn’t go away. During the August democratic primary for the 19th State Senate seat, GNEPSA pumped more than $42,000 into independent expenditures in support of Tom Reynolds’ campaign against union president Cathy Osten.
Reynolds immediately responded: “I want to be clear that my campaign and I never sought this group’s endorsement or support, and we do not condone their agenda or tactics. It is outrageous that my campaign is being used by special interests and big money that seek to influence the outcome of elections, a continuation of a disturbing trend we are witnessing nationwide. The efforts of these groups undermine the integrity of our elections and our political process.”
In the October 2 democratic runoff election for the 5th State Representative seat, GNEPSA again poured more than $42,000 in independent expenditures in support of Brandon McGee’s campaign against, you guessed it, union vice president Leo Canty.
Rhee has been raising hundreds of millions of dollars from right wing billionaires, foundations and corporations to buy elections across America. All so she can further her agenda to privatize public education.
Here in Connecticut, candidates in both races were participating in the state’s Citizens’ Election Program, which is supposed to free candidates from being beholden to special interest groups like Students First/GNEPSA. But people like Michelle Rhee, who are determined to buy influence, will always find a way, unless the people stand up and say no.
Eric Bailey is the Communications Director for AFT Connecticut, a union of more than 28,000 women and men working in the areas of PreK-12 education, paraprofessional and school related personnel, higher education, healthcare and municipal and state government.