By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - The education reform group Students First has named as its president a longtime supporter of school vouchers and loosening tenure protections for public school teachers, the group said on Tuesday.
Jim Blew, a longtime adviser to education reform efforts, will replace Students First founder Michelle Rhee, the former chief of the Washington, D.C. schools, who championed charter schools, tougher teacher evaluations, and other reforms.
"They’ve accomplished an awful lot," said Blew of the organization's first four years, lobbying for reforms in numerous states and engaging in such politically fraught discussions as using public funds to send children to private schools. "It's a great record to build on."
Blew, appointed Tuesday by the Students First board of directors in a meeting in New York, will lead the Sacramento-based organization at a time when it has been retrenching, eliminating paid staff positions in Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, Maine and New Jersey.
He plans to focus the group's activity on about a dozen states, including California, New York, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
Blew previously ran campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and is an adviser to the family of WalMart founder Sam Walton, which funds education reform efforts along with other causes.
A registered Democrat, he has been affiliated with groups that have clashed with teachers unions and many Democratic officials.
Blew became interested in education reform through his father, a Los Angeles public school teacher who helped build a teachers unions but later began to oppose protections for teachers he believed should not be in the classroom, Blew said.
Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, will remain on the organization's board, but plans to devote more time to her family and to working on political issues with Johnson.
She will continue to help set strategic goals for Students First and will serve on its executive committee, Blew said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by David Gregorio)