PAC tied to Teach For America spends big on a local Indiana election, but no one quite knows why

Here we go again. Teach for America, working through its little-known but well-funded political arm, called Leadership for Educational Equity, is dumping a load of money into a school board race in a small district outside of Indianapolis. It wants to place a charter school teacher on the school board of Washington Township, a district of 11,000 students.

The TFA candidate, Deitric Hall, is a newcomer to Indiana. He moved there from California three years ago. LEE has given him $32,000 to run for school board.

LEE has been active in funding candidates for key state and local positions in other states, on school boards and in legislatures.

Their candidates will of course support TFA, charter schools, and privatization.

Chalkbeat Indiana writes:

It’s a small-scale version of a phenomenon that has played out in urban districts around the country as outside campaign contributions have increasingly influenced pivotal school board races. In Indianapolis Public Schools, outside contributions helped radically reshape the board in 2012 and 2014, when out-of-state funders backed a victory for charter-school supporters.

But unlike in IPS, Washington Township isn’t facing a pivotal election — and Hall’s opponent had raised barely any money until this month. That has raised eyebrows in the area, where locals wonder why LEE, even given Hall’s connection to TFA, would spend so heavily on the race.

A native of California, Hall moved to Indianapolis three years ago for a teaching position through TFA, a national nonprofit that recruits new teachers for school districts with high-needs students.

He landed a position at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary, where he now works with students with special needs. Hall, who doesn’t have children, says his background as an educator will offer valuable insight to the board, and despite being new to the community, he is dedicated to improving the schools.

LEE’s spokesman is Erik Guckian, who previously served as top education advisor the Tea Party Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina. Under McGrory’s leadership, and presumably with Guckian’s advice, the state shut down its successful career teacher preparation program (North Carolina Teaching Fellows) and shifted its $6 million to TFA.

Three of the five school board seats are up for election in Washington Township. Hall is facing off against one opponent, John Fencl, for an at-large seat representing the entire district.

Fencl has deep roots in the community: He is a parent of two middle schoolers in Washington Township where he also grew up and went to school. Fencl, an accountant, has volunteered as a math tutor and coach in the district. He said his work mentoring middle school boys has given him particular insight into the schools.

“I’m focused on the district, involved in the district,” he said. “I understand what Washington Township schools are about.”

When Fencl filed a fundraising report with the county earlier this month, he had raised just $750, which he said was because he wasn’t sure how competitive the race would be. But when he saw how much money Hall had raised, he shifted into high gear. In just a couple of weeks, Fencl boosted his fundraising to close to $7,500, he said. About $5,000 of that came from a single donor, Washington Township attorney Charles Rubright.

Since it became clear how much money Hall raised, other community members, including parents and even high school students, have become active in the race. They say they are motivated by concern over the role out-of-state funding is playing in Hall’s campaign.

Kristina Frey is a Washington Township parent who leads the Parent Council Network, a longstanding political group that endorsed Fencl. When she learned that Hall had joined the race, she set up a meeting to hear about his plan for the district and she came away uncertain why he was even running, she said.

“My suspicion is that folks in the education reform movement are looking at how they can potentially expand outside of IPS boundaries,” Frey said. “I would not be surprised to see them come back again with more money and try to gain a majority as they did in IPS.”

Will Washington Township vote in a TFA representative with big money behind him or will they elect a parent who is active in the community? We will see in a few days.