ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
The resignation on Wednesday of Washington, DC public schools chief Michelle Rhee, who has become a lightening rod in the city and the education reform community, has already drawn a reaction from one potential 2012 presidential candidate.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, through his political action committee, released a statement praising Rhee as a “superwoman in education” and condemning the role that powerful unions played in her exit from the top job in one of the most troubled urban school districts in the country.
“Michelle Rhee's resignation is more evidence of the corrosive impact of teachers' unions in American schools,” Pawlenty said in the statement. “Despite — or maybe because of — the early success of her school reforms, the teachers' unions worked tirelessly to stop her, showing no compassion for the thousands of children stuck in failing D.C. schools,”
He added that even though Rhee is leaving her position as chancellor of the DC school system, “her leadership is inspiring to reformers everywhere and will make it harder for the unions to defend the failed status quo.”
While it might seem a like a case of strange bedfellows for a Republican Midwestern governor and likely presidential hopeful to wade into local politics in the District of Columbia, Pawlenty’s comments are part of his broader effort to establish himself as a voice on national education issues as well as a critic of the influence of unions.
Last month when Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated by challenger Vincent Gray in the Democratic mayoral primary, Pawlenty issued a similar statement, criticizing teachers unions for spearheading a campaign against Fenty and Rhee.
“Fenty's loss is further evidence that despite all their rhetoric about 'the children,' what the teachers’ unions really care about is getting more money for jobs they can't lose at schools that produce students who are not prepared to compete,” Pawlenty said in a statement in September.
Fenty’s political fortunes were closely tied to his association with Rhee, who developed a hard-driving reputation during her three-and-a-half-year tenure, rubbing many teachers and parents the wrong way.
Pawlenty wrote an article for the National Review in early September that outlined his views on education reform and took direct aim at what he called a “cartel of teachers’ unions, bureaucrats, and politicians has stood in the way of innovation, reform, and results.”
In the piece, Pawlenty held up Washington, DC and New York City as places where school officials were making real strides despite opposition from interest groups.
“The era of education policy written for and by teachers’ unions is drawing to a close,” Pawlenty wrote.