The issue in the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) School Board race isn’t how to best educate kids, but the role of big, big money, and whether outside money interests will control this 30,800 student district. Money has always been a part of IPS elections. (Don’t think racists didn’t spend money to elect those segregationist IPS board members back in the day.) When the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) was in their prime, campaign cash flowed to their preferred school board candidates. ISTA’s reach has substantially weakened now. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce has always been a big money player in IPS elections. This year, they’ve invested $28,400 in their three backed candidates.
But the new, more odious player in the IPS race is a group with an innocent name – Stand for Children. It is flooding IPS district mailboxes with slick, multi-color direct mail pushing their endorsed candidates Kelley Bentley, Mary Ann Sullivan and Lanier Echols.
But in a live interview Oct. 17 on our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos program,” Stand for Children/Indiana Executive Director Justin Ohlemiller flatly refused to disclose the amount of Stand’s campaign contributions and spending in the IPS race.
Oct. 17, every candidate and political action committee in Indiana had to file campaign finance statements of their activity through Oct. 10. But Stand claims their IRS filing status exempts them from any public disclosure of their campaign spending. Ohlemiller and Stand’s attitude smacks of the worst excesses of campaign financing and the hubris of predominately white education “reformers”.
If you believe Stand for Children’s rhetoric, they empower parents (especially African-American parents) to get involved and engaged in their children’s education. They’re active in local politics with registered political action committees in nine states. But Stand’s refusal to be open and honest about their campaign spending, reminds me of the worst excesses of the “white man’s burden” concept. No one knows if Stand for Children’s spending $1,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000 on the IPS race. But political experts tell me Stand’s spending could approach $500,000!
Stand’s silence is more indicative of Carl Rove, the Koch Brothers or even Nixonian secretive power politics than acting with the best intentions for IPS students, parents, and residents. The candidates Stand supports – Kelly Bentley, Mary Ann Sullivan and Lanier Echols – should publicly demand that Stand release their contributions and spending through Oct. 10 like everyone else in the 2014 campaign.
Bentley, Sullivan and Echols don’t really need Stand for Children’s filthy lucre. Respectively, they’ve raised $41,723.65; $51,477 and $32,028.73 for their own campaigns. MORE than enough to be competitive without Stand’s hundreds of thousands.
Bentley and Sullivan’s dollars have virtually all come from Hoosiers. Just 16.1 percent of Bentley’s campaign cash and 9.1 percent of Sullivan’s came from outside the state. Lanier, the only African-American endorsed by Stand, is the disturbing exception. NEVER has an Indy African-American candidate for a non-Federal office raised a greater percentage of campaign cash from outside Indiana than from within. Unlike the other IPS candidates, Lanier Echols has been an Indianapolis resident a hot minute (since summer 2008) when she began as a Teach for America teacher in IPS after graduating from Florida State.
Despite her teaching career and involvement in education reform she couldn’t garner more than $1,750 in contributions from individual Hoosiers? Her biggest local contribution: $7,000 she got from the Indy Chamber. Including $1,400 in contributions from Echols’ family in Florida, 72.7 percent of her campaign cash is from outsiders like Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook CEO and Lean In author, and Emma Bloomberg, the former NYC mayor’s daughter and Stand for Children’s Board Chair. Why would the Facebook biggie and Bloomberg’s daughter invest in an unknown Black educator who, if elected, would be the youngest IPS board member ever? They don’t know Indy, or IPS, or Echols. Of the five other African-American candidates in the race, including incumbents Michael Brown and Samantha Adair-White, only Light of the World Pastor Dr. David Hampton has raised substantial campaign funds – $22,105; with 9.5 percent from out of state. I interviewed all but one of the IPS candidates last week on “Afternoons with Amos.” The difficult part of the IPS race is that despite Stand and the arrogant education reformers, there’s some great candidates running. In the District 5 race, there’s no contest! Michael Brown (no relation) is far, far better than Lanier Echols, the outsider fueled by Stand for Children’s secretly funded campaign.
In District 3, Samantha Adair-White deserves re-election. She’s her own woman and looks out for the interests of IPS residents, not big money interests. In the at-large race, Mary Ann Sullivan represents the big money education reformers who really don’t have the interests of IPS and minority children at heart. Dr. Ramon Batts and Dr. David Hampton each would be great IPS board members. On this race I’m truly torn.
Most important, IPS residents should rise up Nov. 4 and in the words of Scripture “smite” down Stand for Children and the influence of big money education rustlas.
If you don’t, you’ll send IPS down a path that in the short and long term would be extraordinarily detrimental to our children and our African-American community!
What I’m Hearing in the Streets
Note to IPS Superintendent, Dr. Lewis Ferebee. All IPS candidates support changing IPS policy and believe IPS should notify the public if students and others are arrested with deadly weapons at an IPS school. So change the policy now!
Our feckless Indiana State Board of Education bent their rules again for Christel House Charter School. They allowed the school’s poor high school test results not to count, so instead of a “D” Christel House got a “B” in the 2014 state accountability grades. Last year, Indy’s charters did poorly on the state grades. I can’t reveal this year’s grades for two more weeks, but it won’t be pretty!
See ‘ya next week!
You can email comments to Amos Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.