Election 2016

McCormick draws big cash from education reform heavy-hitters, but Ritz still leads fundraising race

Republican Jennifer McCormick is still raking in dollars from power players in Indiana’s education reform scene for her bid for state superintendent — even though she’s taken steps to distance herself from that movement.

As recently as the candidates debate on Monday, McCormick, a superintendent in Yorktown, told the audience in Fort Wayne that she has had enough of the education politics of the past eight years and revealed an interest in tamping down initiatives that divert money from traditional public schools. That’s a departure from the positions of many in Indiana’s education reform movement, which includes those who support charter schools and expanding access to taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition.

Read: As election nears, Republican challenger looks to distance herself from Bennett and Ritz

Her donors either don’t realize it — or don’t really care, preferring McCormick’s vision to her opponent’s, Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz, regardless.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

For Betsy Wiley, who heads the school choice advocacy group Institute for Quality Education, it’s the latter.

“It’s important for Jennifer to make it clear … that she is her own person,” Wiley said. “There is no question that our organization is a stronger supporter of parental choice than she is.”

Wiley said McCormick’s leadership experience and openness to school choice make her worth supporting despite their policy differences. She also noted that much has changed in Indiana education dynamics than when former Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited Tony Bennett to run as state superintendent back in 2008.

During Bennett and Daniel’s term together, Indiana saw sweeping changes in how schools and teachers were rated and paid, and saw charter schools and vouchers proliferate. Now, in the time since Ritz defeated Bennett in 2012, the focus is more on how those things are being tweaked and adjusted, she said.

Wiley doesn’t expect McCormick to be “Tony Bennett 2.0.”

“A lot of the big reforms are done,” she said.

New fundraising reports show that, in the past several months, McCormick won another large donation from Christel DeHaan, the founder of the the network of Christel House charter schools. DeHaan gave $50,000, bringing her total contributions to McCormick’s campaign to $125,000. Hoosiers for Quality Education, the political arm of Wiley’s organization, also gave $50,000, in addition to $10,000 earlier in the year.

Smaller individual donations came from Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, who didn’t contribute to Bennett’s campaign, ($750); Robert Enlow, CEO of EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation, ($1,000); and Wiley ($1,250).

Yet for some Indianapolis education advocates, Bennett’s donors are too close to McCormick’s campaign for comfort, no matter McCormick’s policy departures.

“Those folks were contributors to Tony Bennett’s campaign … that is still a concern to us,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “They represent more privatization.”

Meredith said she could see how McCormick was inching away from Bennett’s politics at the debate, but ultimately, it’s not enough for her to abandon her concerns.

“I don’t think she wants to be lumped in with Tony Bennett, but the truth of the matter is, that’s who’s supporting her,” she said.

Ritz still has a healthy spending lead over the New Castle native. Ritz raised $181,932 from July to September, and has raised $885,000 so far in 2016. She has more than $617,000 cash on hand.

In that same period, McCormick raised $117,636. So far in 2016 she has raised $271,216, with more than $123,000 on hand.

The majority of Ritz’s donations have come from teachers unions’ political action committees and other union groups.

Recently, Ritz saw large donations from the American Federation of Teachers, which gave $30,000; the PAC affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association, called Indiana Political Action Committee for Education, which has given more than $150,000 in 2016; and other contributions from unions and state Democratic organizations.

Other smaller donations came from Sam Odle, an Indianapolis Public Schools board member running for re-election ($250) and Meredith ($105).

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:

At-large

Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.