In a "Memo on Gun Control Laws" earlier this week, StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee informed the education advocacy organization's staff of the group's "opposition to any and all proposed laws that would allow guns in schools."
Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools and a part-time Nashvillian, had been silent on a Michigan bill that would have allowed certain individuals to carry concealed firearms in previously gun-free zones, such as schools — a notable absence from the debate, since Rhee and her organization have been anything but quiet on most issues involving schools and education. (For instance, they recently dropped $500,000 in opposition to a union-backed Michigan ballot measure that would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state's constitution.)
But Rhee applauded Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's decision on Tuesday to veto the legislation.
Her memo was sent out the same day, and appears in its entirety after the jump:
TO: SF Staff
DATE: December 18, 2012
RE: Gun Control Laws
As an education reform organization, we try hard to remain singularly focused on those issues that directly affect student achievement, and to abstain from broader policy debates and political discussions that are outside our mission.
It is for that reason we did not take a position on measures like the one on the governor's desk in Michigan that would allow guns in schools. There are organizations whose sole mission is to fight gun violence, and which are far better equipped than we to engage on these bills.
However, like many of you, I continue to be disturbed by the violence that took place last week in Newtown, Connecticut. I am disturbed by the dozens of shootings that have taken place in recent years at schools across the country.
It should go without saying that guns have no place in schools. Schools must be safe havens for teaching and learning — that is a basic obligation to children that comes before anything else.
Accordingly, I have come to the conclusion that StudentsFirst must publicly oppose legislation that would bring firearms into schools, anywhere. That includes opposing SB 59 in Michigan. We urge our members to voice their opposition as well. While gun control issues fall outside our direct policy agenda, I have absolutely no reluctance taking this position. I am convinced that allowing firearms in schools cannot help advance student achievement or put the interests of students first.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right when he says that our nation’s leaders must not let this moment pass without taking strong action.
If you have any questions about our position or our thinking in taking this position please don't hesitate to contact Eric Lerum or myself.
Rhee, the ex-wife of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, has been particularly active in Tennessee politics, where the idea of arming teachers is already being bandied about. In 2012, StudentsFirst's political action committee spent $379,285.74 in Tennessee on contributions to state and local candidates and other campaign activities, according to the state's Registry of Election Finance.
StudentsFirst's primary political objective — contributing to candidates who generally share Rhee's views on education policy, such as opposition to teacher's unions and support for the expansion of charter schools — creates something of a quandary in this case, since it has aligned her with a number of GOP legislators who are likely on the opposite side of the gun control question (and likely waiting to see how long a leash the National Rifle Association gives them on the matter).
But given Rhee's political capital — like, actual cash — she might have their ear.