The curious case of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s upcoming Education Summit

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Who is sponsoring the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s upcoming Education Summit, and why are their names no longer listed on the official promotional piece for the event?

The original announcement for the Summit included Target, General Mills, and Thompson Reuters among the handful of groups and businesses sponsoring the Education Summit. However, as of Wednesday, January 29, the list of sponsors had been removed from the Chamber of Commerce’s announcement for the event. When contacted about this, a Chamber of Commerce representative said the sponsors’ names were removed because displaying them “wasn’t doing anybody any good.”

However, controversial education reform purveyor Michelle Rhee will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Summit, and her pending appearance, along with the Chamber’s national support for the Common Core State Standards, sparked protest from some local and national advocacy groups that organize against corporate education reform movements. Word quickly spread through social media, and some of the local groups, such as Minnesotans Against the Common Core and Save the Kids, organized a call-in protest to the Chamber of Commerce and the event’s corporate sponsors.  These groups are also planning a “Stand for Kids” rally at the Summit.

The details of the Summit, which will include not only Michelle Rhee’s speech but also an appearance by former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, among others, were also brought to the attention of the Minnesota Badass Teachers Association (MN BATs), which is the local off-shoot of the National BAT Association, started in 2013. Their Twitter account, as well as that of other local education Tweeters, includes information about the Summit and appeals to Target, in particular, about their alleged sponsorship of the event.

Whether or not this call for protest led the Chamber of Commerce to remove sponsors’ names is unclear. When asked, Joan Rausch, who coordinates Special Events for the Chamber, would only say that there had been a “miscommunication” regarding Target’s sponsorship, and that they were not actual sponsors of the Summit. Also, in an email, Chamber of Commerce Communications director Jim Pulmaro said that the Chamber is the primary sponsor of the Education Summit. He confirmed that the other sponsors’ names were removed from the Chamber’s website, but did not offer an explanation for why they were removed.

Another mystery surrounding the Education Summit is whether or not scholarships to the event are, or ever were, available. The original announcement for the Summit includes this line: “…a limited number of scholarships are available.” When, as a public school parent and freelance writer, I called to request a scholarship on Monday, January 27, I was told that the Chamber would be meeting the next day to discuss the scholarships and that I would receive a call back. I did not receive a phone call, so I called the next day to find out whether or not I would be receiving a scholarship to the event, and was told that they were all gone.

Minneapolis Public Schools parent Patricia Wycoff says that she also called to inquire about scholarships, and was told that the Minneapolis Foundation, one of the original sponsors listed on the Chamber’s website, was handling all of the scholarships. A phone call by Wycoff to the Minneapolis Foundation led to more confusion, as the Foundation said they were not in charge of the scholarships or the Education Summit.

In response, Chamber Communications director Jim Pumarlo said only that, “No scholarships were made available” to people who are not members of the Chamber of Commerce. Chamber employee Kristin Hartung, who manages the group’s website, said that, on January 29, she was instructed by another Chamber employee, whose name she was not sure of, to remove the information about available scholarships from the Chamber website.

In lieu of a scholarship, I will be attending the Education Summit via a ticket purchased for me by a friend. I will be live tweeting from the event @sarahrlahm.

Correction 2/1/2014: The link for the original Chamber of Commerce announcement has been changed to this Twitter pic that capture s the original.