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Indy Voters: Here’s Your Chance to Oust an Ed-Reform School Board Incumbent.

October 25, 2018

When it comes to killing traditional public education in favor of market-based ed reform models that remove the community control from its own schools, market-based ed reformers means business– and the public would do best to believe that there is a market for the usurping of community influence over schools.

Consider the situation of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), as captured in this July 12, 2018, Washington Post feature written by my friend and colleague, Network for Public Education (NPE) communication director, Darcie Cimarusti, and presented here in part:

When schools reopen in Indianapolis, Indiana in July, the doors of three legacy high schools will remain shuttered. The Indianapolis Public School (IPS) board voted last fall to close them after six months of raucous meetings where community members accused the board and superintendent of ignoring community concerns. Like many school closures, the recent shuttering of what were once three great high schools would disproportionately impact low-income children of color.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee cited budget concerns and declining enrollment throughout the district as justification. But as the traditional public high schools the community fought to keep open were closed, the district opened a charter high school co-founded by  Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor and education reform stalwart.

Daniels, now president of Purdue University and a founder of Purdue Polytechnic High School, spoke to the inaugural class of 159 students on their first day of school, July 31, 2017. Before Daniels’s new high school had even completed its first year, the Indianapolis Charter School Board approved the charter’s request to open an additional location.

The second Purdue Polytechnic High School wants to take over the Broad Ripple High School building, one of the schools the IPS board closed just last year. …

Why are treasured public assets being turned over to unproven charter operators against the will of many people in the community?

Because IPS subscribes to the “portfolio model” of education reform — a controversial model of school reform first implemented in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, that has since spread to cities such as Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado.

What is the portfolio model? Diane Ravitch, education historian and public school advocate, who is president of the Network for Public Education, describes it  as a school board treating their schools as if they were a stock portfolio. “If a school is not performing well, turn it over to private management. Buy and sell schools as you would buy and sell stocks in a portfolio. Disruption? No problem. Chaos? No problem.”

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis, Indiana based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, brought the portfolio model to IPS. Over $80 million in local and national foundation money has poured into the Mind Trust’s coffers since 2006, with the Walton FoundationBloomberg Philanthropies, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the John and Laura Arnold Foundation joining the local foundations already supporting Indianapolis’s portfolio model.

The startling news included in Cimarusti’s report begs two questions: In 2014, could the Indianapolis public see the portfolio model coming? Was there evidence that supporters of the model had the blessings (and financial support) of those pushing reforms that favor charter schools at the expense of community schools– and which yield outcomes designed to move both influence and money away from local taxpayers?

The answer to both questions is yes, if one pays attention not only to the declared agenda of the local-level, ed reform candidate but also particularly to the sources of money flowing in to elect that candidate.

Granted, it is easier to discuss this issue from 2018 hindsight; however, the candidate who serves as the focus of the remainder of this post, Mary Ann Sullivan, is running for reelection on November 06, 2018, and there is still time for unsuspecting Indiana voters to educate themselves about what she was and is before heading to the polls in November 2018.

Consider this October 06, 2014, Chalkbeat interview of then-IPS candidate Sullivan, excerpted here. Chalkbeat asked the questions, and Sullivan supplied the answers:

3. Should the school district partner with charter schools?


Do you support the House Bill 1321 “innovation network” law? What is the ideal relationship between the district and a charter school operator?

Yes, I testified in support of House Bill 1321 during the last legislative session.

Any relationship between the district and a charter operator would be entered into first and foremost to benefit students. It would be a true partnership, with clear roles, responsibilities, expectations, transparency and accountability on all sides. Ideally, successful practices developed in such a relationship would be shared with other interested schools.

5. The district is moving toward more partnerships with outside groups like The Mind Trust and Stand for Children. Do you support stronger partnerships with school reform organizations?


If not, why not? If yes, what would you envision those partnerships with charter school organizations look like?

I would welcome partnerships with any outside groups dedicated to improving educational opportunities for children in IPS. I would support real partnerships, where all parties have a stake and a role in decision-making. We need to come to an understanding that we are all working toward the goal of providing students with the best educational opportunities possible. I believe those opportunities can and should be in IPS, but we cannot reach that goal if we are more worried about a school type than serving students.

Let the lessons begin.

First of all, beware of those deflecting attention away from “school type” in the name of improving educational opportunities for children,” especially if the candidate offering such advice is drawing quite the trove of funding to support her campaign.

Second, check for out-of-state contributions. According to Sullivan’s October 10, 2014, pre-election filing, she already had $51.4K in her campaign chest, including $2,000 in contributions from California billionaire Reed Hoffman, founder of Linkedin, and his wife, Michelle Yee, plus $1,100 from Manhattan, NY-based Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

One might think that one or two out-of-state, ed reform contributors really doesn’t matter, but it does, and where there are a couple, there will likely be more:

According to Sullivan’s 2014, end-of-year filing, her campaign received a total of $73.7K for a local school board election– including $2,500 from former New York City mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and $2,500 from Connecticut billionaire and OxyContin heir, Jonathan Sackler.

Out-of-state billionaires spending money on school board elections is a hallmark of the ed reform preference of ushering in charter schools while snuffing out community schools.

Finally, where there is market-based ed reform, there is likely notable support from a business entity. In Sullivan’s case, it’s the political action committee (PAC) of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee (BAC).

In 2014, Indy Chamber BAC supported Sullivan for a total of $18.8K ($10.5K cash; $8.3K in-kind).

Stop and think about that for a second: A candidate for school board has the $18.8K support of a business advocacy committee. it makes sense if one considers that ed reformers view education as a business and charterization of entire districts as an ultimate goal.

So, here we are, Indianapolis, in October 2018.

IPS is now marketized via the likes of the Mind Trust, which Sullivan endorses, and Sullivan is running for re-election.

Sullivan’s 2018 contributions (also here) to date are more modest than in 2014: $11K total, with $8.7K coming from the business PAC, Indy Chamber BAC.

Converting neighborhood schools to the portfolio model is part of the business of ed reform, and Sullivan is a conduit for ed reform in IPS.

Okay, Indy voters: Now that you know who is financially backing Sullivan, will you reelect her or send her packing?

For info on an October 19, 2018, candidate forum, including Sullivan’s defense of ed reform as her challengers, Susan Collins and Joanna Krumel, question and even oppose reforms such as Mind Trust involvement in IPS schools and the presence of charter schools, see this Chalkbeat article.

Collins is a retired IPS teacher whose primary funding source to date ($15K) is the United Education Profession PAC, IPACE.

Krumel is an IPS parent whose initial campaign filing is for $200.

Neither Collins nor Krumel is raking in dollars from either business and industry or out-of-state billionaires.

The vote is in your court, Indy citizens.



Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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