Jan 172013

A recent Washington Post article about Michelle Rhee makes the following claim:

Rhee, as the chief executive of StudentsFirst, which employs 124 and is based in Sacramento, earns an annual salary of $61,000, according to federal tax filings.

My best guess is that the reporter looked at the Form 990 for StudentsFirst Institute (a 501c3). That form covers October 12, 2010 through July 31, 2011 and lists Rhee’s salary as $61,250, plus an additional $1,250 from related organizations (StudentsFirst, a 501c4). However, it’s pretty likely that – at least for the years after 2011 – Rhee’s salary will be a good deal higher than that. The IRS applications for StudentsFirst and StudentsFirst Institute1, available through the NY Charities Bureau website, offers additional information.

From the StudentsFirst application:

StudentsFirst Institute

Note that it is actual or estimated compensation.

And the StudentsFirst Institute application:


There are (probably) two possibilities here: Rhee will be making about $200k in FY 2012, or she’ll be making about $125k. The former is simply adding the anticipated $75k from StudentsFirst in 2012 and $125k from StudentsFirst Institute (although no year is listed). The second possibility is that the $125k reported on the StudentsFirst Institute application includes any payment from StudentsFirst. Either way, the $61,000 “annual salary” is likely a good deal off.2

Secondly, a recent Nation article makes the following claim about Students for Education Reform (SFER):

SFER has received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now…

But that number isn’t quite accurate. Education Reform Now is the fiscal sponsor of SFER, a set-up that (I think) would allow SFER to receive funds before they had fully established a 501c3. From the ERN 2010 Form 990:

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 12.13.49 AM


Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 12.13.30 AM

So that $1.6 million is for StudentsFirst and SFER. I’m not sure how much ERN received for SFER, but it almost certainly wasn’t a full $1.6 million.

For those with an interest in SFER’s funding, the only donation I’ve seen (on a Form 990) is $100k from Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson’s Bouncer Foundation in 2011. That foundation’s Form 990 is available here. Sackler is also a SFER board member. The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation also lists SFER as a funded organization, but the foundation’s Form 990 for 2011 isn’t available yet and the website doesn’t list a dollar amount.

I tend to not thing either one of these inaccuracies is that big of a deal, but it does indicate – at least to me – that some of the information about organizations in the non-profit sector is either not that accessible, or people don’t know where to look for some of this information. Heck, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time reading through this kind of stuff and I still get tripped up at times.

  1. For some reason the IRS application lists the organization as “StudentsFirst Initiative” in a number of different places on the form.
  2. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Rhee is doing this for the money, and her salary – either $125k or $200k per year – isn’t out of line given the budgets of SF and SFI.
 January 17, 2013  Posted by on January 17, 2013

  3 Responses to “Michelle Rhee’s Salary and SFER Funding – Some (Minor) Corrections”

  1. Thanks for this, Ken. Rhee’s income from her StudentsFirst salary is most likely only a small part of her income, however. There are reports of very large fees for speeches, and she’s got this book coming out. SF may drive her “brand,” but she likely makes her real money from other activities.

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