Ed in the Election: New York group tries to tie Romney to anti-union group

A New York-based group released a report this week trying to tie Mitt Romney to StudentsFirstNY, an education organization known for opposing teachers unions and supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s often controversial education policies.

StudentsFirstNY is a local offshoot of a national organization founded in 2010 by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. In New York, the organization has pledged to raise $50 million in the next five years to support Bloomberg’s education policies, such as eliminating seniority-based layoffs for teachers.

The report, published by New Yorkers for Greater Public Schools, charges that “Romney donors and Republican insiders” plan to “control NYC education.” According to the report, which is titled “studentsfirstROMNEY FIRST,” StudentsFirstNY board members and funders have given more than $2 million to Romney and super PACs affiliated with the candidate.

The report’s authors warn of school closures and personnel reductions, arguing that “StudentsFirst NY is using a plan developed by Bain & Company and advocating actions that will treat public schools the way Romney’s Bain Capital treated companies.” (Romney served as CEO of Bain Capital from 1984, when he co-founded it, until 2002; he also served as interim CEO of Bain & Company in 1991-92.)

StudentsFirst dismissed the validity of the report. “Virtually every line in this report contains charges that range from absurd to dishonest,” Glen Weiner, the  deputy executive director of StudentsFirstNY, wrote in a statement, according to The New York Times. “Clearly, the teachers’ union is so desperate to suppress a serious conversation about improving teacher quality and expanding school options for kids that it has set up a front group to threaten elected officials and concoct conspiracy theories.”

The Times pointed out that the report is “somewhat selective,” noting that the StudentsFirstNY board also includes members who donate to Democrats.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama spent some time on the campaign trail talking to teachers in Iowa. “The main thing I wanted to do is just say thank you. … I know how tough it is to be a teacher,” he said, according to Politico. “I know you guys get a lot of satisfaction. Obviously you guys don’t do this for the money.”

Obama also spoke about the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known under President George W. Bush as the No Child Left Behind Act). Its re-authorization has been stalled since 2007. Obama said the new bill his administration has been crafting would “maintain the best spirit of No Child Left Behind.” While many educators and advocates have extensively criticized NCLB, the law has also been praised for its emphasis on measuring the achievement of many student subgroups.

“But we want greater flexibility,” Obama added.