A new national education policy advocacy group is expanding into South Carolina, and one of its key teacher leaders calls the Lowcountry home.
Students First is led by Michelle Rhee, who became one of the most well-known and divisive district leaders in the country while serving as chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools.
The group has more than 2 million members nationwide, and it says it has worked with Democrats and Republicans to help pass more than more than 110 policies in 17 states.
“South Carolina was a state we identified as needing a lot of improvement and needing a lot of policy change when compared to other states,” said Eric Lerum, the group's vice president of national policy.
South Carolina received a “D” on the group's state policy report card. Students First plans to use a combination of approaches, from mobilizing its members to backing specific lawmakers during elections, to further its policy agenda.
Students First supporters met with lawmakers Wednesday to introduce themselves and their platform.
Amanda Hobson, a native of Summerville, is a reading teacher at downtown Sanders-Clyde, and a teacher fellow with Students First. She has been helping to organize local educators who are interested in Students First reforms, she said.
The group plans to push four priority areas in South Carolina — creating a turnaround district for failing schools; improving educators' evaluations so teachers receive consistent feedback; empowering parents to demand change when they are unsatisfied with their schools; and holding charter schools to a high standard.
Students First has three broad policy focus areas nationally, and one of its specific objectives is to support publicly funded scholarship programs for lower-income students so they can access high-quality private schools.
That controversial issue has been discussed for years in South Carolina but not become a reality. Lerum said that wasn't on the group's short-term radar, and it hasn't yet identified its long-term goals.