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Rhee's Appearance At Vouchers Conference Brings Up Old Grievances

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Some members of D.C.'s teachers union protested a conference featuring former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee Monday. That same day, hundreds of teachers were notified that their positions would be eliminated by the end of the school year.
Matt Laslo
Some members of D.C.'s teachers union protested a conference featuring former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee Monday. That same day, hundreds of teachers were notified that their positions would be eliminated by the end of the school year.

While protesters carry signs with messages against school vouchers, it's clear the large crowd outside the Washington Marriott Monday wasn't happy with many aspects of Rhee's tenure in D.C. Besides supporting school vouchers, she renegotiated teacher's contracts and fired hundreds of teachers.

Her legacy continues even after her departure last year; DCPS will cut 600 teacher and employee positions this year, and those laid off will be evaluated for new positions based on merit evaluations, rather than seniority -- something Rhee insisted upon in the new contract.

Her critics, like former teacher and blogger Guy Brandenburg, say Rhee's legacy only added to the nationwide debate over unions and vouchers now being waged in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

"I definitely do think it has spread nationally now because of her impact," he says.

Nathan Saunders, the head of the Washington Teacher's Union, says officials across the U.S. are using budget shortfalls to attack unions like his.

"It's a lot less about the unions not doing good work and not being good for the cities and the children they serve, more about the costs they're paying for good services," Saunders says.

Supporters of vouchers say the programs are all about leveling the playing field for some underprivileged students while also injecting more competition into the educational system. Rhee is scheduled to address the conference on vouchers this morning.

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