Archives for category: Indianapolis

Indiana is a swamp of school choice corruption.

If you read this post, your hair might catch on fire if  you are sensitive to things like ethics, honesty, and responsible stewardship of public money.

Seven years ago, the state superintendent of Indiana was a school choice firebrand named Tony Bennett. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to transfer public money from public schools to charter operators or religious schools. He was briefly riding high–the Thomas B. Fordham Institute named him the “reformiest of all reformers.” But then he came a cropper. An AP reporter unearthed the fact that he raised the grade of a charter school owned by one of his campaign donors. That was too much, even for the corrupt swamp overseen by Indiana Republicans. Bennett was defeated when he ran for re-election.  Bennett promptly became State Commissioner of Florida. That gig lasted only weeks, and he had to resign because of the ethics problem he left behind in Indiana.

One of his decisions during his tenure in Indiana was to hand over three low-performing schools in Indianapolis to the for-profit chain called Charter Schools USA, which is owned by a pal of Jeb Bush. The chain was supposed to “turn” those schools around.

As Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes, the schools continued to struggle. An extraordinary number of their students decided to homeschool, which boosted the graduation rate of the schools.

Lewis Ferebee, then the superintendent of Indianapolis, now the superintendent in D.C., was happy to work with Charter Schools USA.

Hinnefeld writes:

Charter Schools USA is a for-profit Florida company that operates over 80 schools in six states, according to its website. Its founder and long-time CEO, Jonathan Hage, has played influential roles in Florida Republican politics, including serving on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education transition team.

Sherry Hage, who is married to Jonathan Hage, is founder and CEO of Noble Education Initiative, the nonprofit that would operate the three Indianapolis schools under a charter issued to ReThink Forward Indiana. There’s also ReThink Forward, a CSUSA arm that’s active in Tennessee; its vice chair is Tony Bennett, the former Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

Noble Education Initiative’s director of educational development and partnerships, Byron Ernest, is on the Indiana State Board of Education. Ernest worked for CSUSA as principal of Emmerich Manual for two years after the state took it over. (He has recused himself from state board decisions about CSUSA).

‘Turnaround academies’

Schools taken over by the state and turned over to managers like CSUSA are called turnaround academies. But they haven’t turned around quickly. T.C. Howe earned six more consecutive F’s under Indiana’s grading system after being taken over. Emma Donnan earned five F’s, then a C.

That’s despite approximately $22.3 million in federal School Improvement Grants that the State Board of Education has awarded to CSUSA for the schools. In recent years, the board has rejected recommendations from the Indiana Department of Education and its leader, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, to give a bigger share to district-run public schools that were struggling.

Charter Schools USA asked the Indiana charter board to turn the three Indianapolis schools into charters that it could add to its chain.

Shockingly, the charter board voted 4-3 NOT to give the schools to Charter Schools USA. 

As Chalkbeat reports,

Indiana Charter School Board denied charters Friday for three Indianapolis turnaround schools — a stunning move that could spell the end to the Florida-based Charter Schools USA’s operations in Indianapolis.

As a result, the three Indianapolis schools — Howe High School, Manual High School, and Emma Donnan Middle School — face the prospect of another rocky transition to new management, or even possible closure.

But the board’s 4-3 votes against the charters, which elicited gasps from the audience, marked a major victory for Indianapolis Public Schools, which could win back the three schools that have been under state takeover since 2011. (Two members of the charter board were not present for the vote.)

IPS could reclaim the three schools or close them.

But Charter Schools USA, despite its money and political influence, lost three juicy plums.

(Hint: the state schools’ chief Jennifer McCormick is secretly a friend to genuine public schools. Don’t tell the governor or the legislature.)



Valerie Jablow, parent activist and blogger in D.C., wrote a scathing indictment of the leadership of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

She is sure that the districts leaders are actively undermining public schools–a policy of benign neglect– and promoting charter expansion.

A few weeks ago, the D.C. Public Charter School Board [sic] approved five new charter schools, despite the large number of empty seats in both public and private charter schools.  Only one of the new charters will locate in Anacostia, the city’s highest poverty district.

Many of the public schools enrolling students with high needs are suffering devastating budget cuts. At the same time, the Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn testified that the city was “over investing” in these same schools. She notes that the Deputy Mayor sends his own child to an expensive private school where it is just fine to “overinvest” in education.

Chancellor Lewis Ferebee was hired away from Indianapolis, where he was actively collaborating with those who supported the privatization of public education. Now he oversees the harsh budget cuts inflicted on D.C.’s public schools, while declaring that more seats are needed for charter schools. Conditions are so bad in many of the district’s public schools that students are literally being pushed out of public schools and forced to seek “choices” other than their neighborhood public schools.

Chancellor Ferebee is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, which actively promotes vouchers, charter schools, and high-stakes testing.

And here is a voice in the D.C. wilderness, a teacher and Vice Chair of the Ward 7 Education Council, calling for a moratorium on charters in D.C., because they open and close at will and have no allegiance to their community, nor do they fill any need. Venola M. Rolle wrote in a letter to the Washington Post:

Stories regarding sudden closures and substandard performance justify a moratorium on establishing charter schools in this city. I do not know what information could be more damning. It’s time to have an open discussion about how to cease the proliferation of charter schools in the city and, instead, devise approaches to strengthening the schools we already have and that are the anchors of our communities.

With the current leadership of D.C., its mayor, its deputy mayor for education, and its chancellor, that discussion is not likely to happen.


Jim Scheurich is a professor at Indiana University and a public education activist. He writes here about how School Choice is intended to destroy community.


Folks, the philosophy that charter and innovation schools are built on is that your children’s school should be individualized parental choice.  This means parents individually search across the Indy area as to where to send their children, which often means leaving their neighborhood community.  Each family or individual parent is thus on her, his, or their own and not engaged with their neighborhood community.  Also, each family or individual parent is pitted against or in competition with other similar families and parents for the so-called “better” schools.

This individualistic orientation of charters and innovation schools undermines neighborhood communities and even the possibility of neighborhood communities.   Undermining neighborhood communities, according to sociological research, increases violence, including murder.  Other research shows that building community decreases violence, including murder.

This, therefore, means that charter and innovation schools are likely one of the causes of our high murder rate in Indianapolis as the individualized school choice model is broadly undermining neighborhood communities across our city. 

Of course, building community in low income areas is not easy, but not impossible.  However, many such communities have created positive community spaces.  Given the difficulty of creating such communities, we certainly do not need more policies, like charter and innovation schools, that are threats to community and community building.

If you study the neoliberal political and economic “philosophy” behind the choice school movement, you will find a strong focus on individualism over community.  If you want to understand this movement, which is driving the creation of individualistic “choice” schools, read Democracy in chains by Nancy MacLean, a Duke historian, and then read the award winningDark money by Jane Mayer, which analyzes who the Koch brothers are as they are primary supporters of neoliberalism.  Indeed, overwhelmingly, the financial supporters of neoliberalism, the people behind the curtain, the people funding Stand for Children and the Mind Trust, are conservative to rightwing billionaires.

If you don’t believe me or think I am just some conspiracy nut, I dare you to read Democracy in chainsby the highly respected Duke historian, Nancy MacLean. I dare you.

My point is that charter and innovation schools help destroy community, which according to sociological research can lead to increased violence.


Jim Scheurich, Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-class, citywide group of Indianapolis citizens working to reverse the takeover of our school district by those funded by white, conservative or rightwing, billionaire neoliberals. Also, an activist professor of Urban Education Studies at Indiana University – Indianapolis








Karen Francisco, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, wrote a moving tribute to our dear friend Phyllis Bush. She called Phyllis “a lifelong teacher.” She taught for 32 years. When she retired, however, she never stopped teaching.

Francisco quotes some of Phyllis’s former students, who describe how Phyllis Bush changed their lives.

The editorial includes a photograph that catches the only moment when Phyllis was ever speechless. That moment occurred at the last annual conference of the Network for Public Education, held in Indianapolis, when the winner of the first annual Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism was announced. As one, the audience jumped to its feet and gave Phyllis a standing ovation.

That was a precious moment, filled with love, respect, and admiration for a woman who never stopped teaching and never lost her sparkling sense of humor.

John Thompson here writes about his reaction to the annual conference of the Network for Public Education, where the implicit theme was that David is beating Goliath, but Goliath just keeps stumbling forward, crushing public schools and advancing privatization, with no evidence of success. I argued, in the opening address of the conference, that the Reformers are akin to Goliath, and that Goliath has failed and failed again but is so powerful that he continues to wreak destruction on communities. He is among the Walking Dead. He is, in fact, a zombie.

Thompson was a teacher in Oklahoma; he recently retired. He lives in the belly of the beast, a state where Goliathians control the legislature and the governorship. At least they don’t pretend to be “progressives.” They are DeVos-Trump extremists, with links to ALEC and the Koch brothers.

Thompson admits that he was slow in realizing that the Reformers are intent on undermining public schools and that they were acting in concert. But he is convinced now, not only that they are doing so, but that their promises have not been kept and that, in fact, they have failed wherever they set their sights.

He ends with this:

Knowing that Indianapolis is at the heart of the dying, but still dangerous corporate reform movement, I expected that Chalkbeat would choose its words carefully and make sure that its reporting didn’t threaten its donations from Goliath. Chalkbeat Indianapolis didn’t cover the NPE conference but Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat New York has been covering Indiana’s Mind Trust and its successor, the City Fund. (Chalkbeat Indiana has since linked to WFYI Indianapolis’s report on one of the city’s 20 “innovation schools” which is receiving $1.3 million in management fees.)

This leads to the biggest question that I brought to the NPE. We Oklahomans have failed to communicate with our state’s edu-philanthropists on how their science-based, holistic early education and trauma-informed instruction programs and the Indianapolis Goliath are inherently incompatible. We know that the City Fund seems to have its eye on Deborah Gist’s Tulsa Public schools. We could use some help from NPE conference participants in explaining to Tulsa philanthropists why their “portfolio model” is likely to undermine their contributions to high quality pre-k, just like it did in New Orleans.

As a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood and a board member for the ACLU/OK, I developed great respect for the Kaiser and Schusterman foundations and other Tulsa philanthropists. I still struggle to understand how those leaders could not see how their humane, evidence-based programs are threatened by Goliath’s data-driven, reward and punish corporate reforms. But one of the first people I saw in Indianapolis was Tom Ultican, and he gave me information on the $200,000 Schusterman donated to California privatizers such as Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck. If nothing else, I would like to explain to the philanthropists why educators can’t lower our guard and stop defending ourselves against their scorched earth tactics. I’d appreciate any help the NPE can provide in explaining why we will fight Goliath to the end.

Imagine that. Chalkbeat has an outpost in Indianapolis, but did not think it was worth its time to send a reporter to cover a conference of 500 educators from across the country that took place in Indianapolis! Is that media bias? Would their funders (Walton, Gates, etc.) have objected if they sent a reporter to write about a major event in their city?

Indianapolis has been a major target for the privatization movement. A group called The Mind Trust, funded by billionaire foundations, has led the effort to destroy public education, while presenting its motives as benign and admirable.

The corporate reform attack on Indianapolis was described vividly in this post by Jim Scheurich and Gayle Crosby.

Tom Ultican wrote about the destructive role of The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, which claims to be allied with the Democratic Party.

Locals, lacking the resources of the privatizes, have fought to save their public schools.

Here is a report on the recent elections from Dountonia Batts, an active member of the Network for Public Education:

Sending a clear message that the community is fed up with corporate reform, voters in Indianapolis ousted two incumbents on the Indianapolis Public School (IPS) Board, replacing them with opponents of the district’s corporate reform agenda.

First-time candidates Taria Slack and Susan Collins were backed by the IPS Community Coalition (the Indianapolis AROS Chapter) and the local teachers union and ran against incumbents backed by Stand for Children and the Mind Trust, a corporate reform institute. Slack and Collins are vowing to pressure the IPS administration to improve transparency, genuine community collaboration and engagement, and hold the administration accountable.

Indianapolis schools have been under persistent attack by corporate reformers over the past decade, with increasing numbers of charters and public school closings. The district—under the tutelage of the Mind Trust—has also created so-called “Innovation Schools,” which are IPS schools that are handed over to a charter management organization. Innovation Schools have complete autonomy, a school board that is not elected by the public, and receive public funds. Additionally, this structure allows charters under the IPS umbrella to take advantage of district-provided services such as transportation and special education services at no cost. This victory is proof that ordinary citizens can defeat big money. People power trumps money power. IPS Community Coalition is organized, prepared, and ready to reclaim our schools


Dountonia S. Batts, J.D., M.B.A., N.S.A.

Congratulations to public school advocates in Indianapolis, who were vastly outspent by the “School Choice Trust” (Mind Trust and Stand for Children), yet still managed to win two out of three seats on the school board!

The Indianapolis story is here.

Vocal critics of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration looked poised to unseat two incumbents in Tuesday’s school board election. The results signal opposition to sweeping moves that have reshaped the district, such as high school closings and partnerships with charter school operators.

The race for the at-large seat remained close as the final votes were tallied Wednesday night, with retired IPS teacher Susan Collins taking 43.7 percent of votes over incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former board president. Collins led by about 600 votes — Sullivan held 42.4 percent of the vote, and Joanna Krumel, another challenger, had about 14 percent.

Taria Slack, a federal worker, defeated incumbent Dorene Rodriguez Hoops with 59 percent of the vote to represent the northwest side of the district.

The third seat was won by a proponent of school choice, a policy usually associated with conservatives and opponents of public education.

Mercedes Schneider notes that Indianapolis is the target of a corporate reform takeover.

She describes the situation, then notes that this election offers voters a chance to vote out a school board member who supports privatization.

She writes:

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….

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….

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?

Don’t miss the chance to attend the Network for Public Education’s fifth annual conference in Indianapolis on October 20-21.

This will be the best one yet.

Register now!

Amazing keynote speakers! Amazing panels!

Meet your friends and allies!

Here is the link for registration.

Here is the link that shows all of the panels–they are wonderful this year!

Join us in the belly of the beast, Mike Pence country!

Meet the parents and teachers who are fighting to reclaim their public schools from the privatizers!

Peter Greene will attend the Network for Public Education’s 5th annual conference in Indianapolis on Oct 20-21.

You should be there too!

Every gathering has been better than the one before.

You will meet Peter Greene, Mercedes Schneider, Carol Burris, Anthony Cody, Leonie Haimson, and all your favorite bloggers from across the country.

Join us!