On Monday, Monroe County's Herald-Times ran a guest editorial from Justin Ohlemiller, the executive director of Stand for Children Indiana. Mr. Ohlemiller told readers that this past year's ISTEP accurately portrayed Indiana students' readiness for college and careers, and that parents and others should welcome its harsh information.
Just to review, Mr. Ohlemiller was talking about the new ISTEP that was based on new standards which were released to teachers late in the summer before they were supposed to teach them. Designed by McGraw-Hill, its length generated protests by parents last spring, and Governor Pence summarily insisted that it be shortened, with the result that different groups of students took different tests. Add to that the computer problems that accompanied its administration, and you have a potent brew of invalidity, frustration, and expense. In fact, the Indiana legislature deemed the 2015 ISTEP such a volatile and potentially damaging subject in an election year that this January they passed bills to hold teachers and schools "harmless" from its scores. But Mr. Ohlemiller didn't seem to want to pay attention to any of the actual messiness and consequences of the test in action.
The byline in the Herald-Times identified Stand for Children Indiana as a nonprofit education advocacy group. I was curious and tried looking up that organization’s 990’s (tax forms which nonprofits must file). To my surprise, I could not find any. Unless they have registered as a nonprofit in Indiana very recently, I do not believe that Stand for Children Indiana is its own nonprofit entity. There is, however, a Stand for Children Indiana PAC which has funneled a lot of money to legislative races. Interestingly, the Indiana PAC’s address is more frequently listed as Portland, OR, than Indianapolis, IN, based on a “Stand for Children” contribution search of the Indiana campaign finance web site.
According to the Economic Research Institute, Stand for Children, Inc., is a nonprofit based in Portland, OR, that in 2013 had about $5 million each in revenue, assets, and contributions. Stand for Children Leadership Center, also based in Portland, had revenue, assets, and contributions of $18.5 million, $15.8 million, and $22 million, respectively, in 2013. It was the Portland Stand for Children PAC which gave Bob Behning, chair of the Indiana House Education Committee, $12,000 in 2014. The campaign contribution web site shows donations to the Stand for Children Indiana PAC that come directly from the Stand for Children, Inc., in Portland.
A lot of Stand for Children’s principles sound quite good, for instance, the goal of having “high-quality teachers” in schools that serve low-income students. It took me a great deal of time on their web site to discover the place where they make it clear that they advocate for “school choice.” To me, the phrase “school choice” is a code phrase for privatization—taking public money out of public schools and sending it to charters or private schools through vouchers.
How is it, then, that Indianapolis Public Schools allows Stand for Children into its schools to train parents for advocacy, though the “Stand University for Parents (Stand UP)”? Situations like this become more plausible when Stand for Children is a major supporter of victorious IPS school board candidates who support “school choice.” Here’s the late Amos Brown on Stand for Children’s involvement in the 2014 elections:
"...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 Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers or even Nixonian secretive power politics than acting with the best intentions for IPS students, parents, and residents.”
None of the school board spending is visible on the Indiana campaign finance web site. Mr. Ohlemiller refused to release financial details of IPS campaign-related spending, since money was funneled through the national organization rather than the Indiana PAC.
Money from outside Indiana is not just being channeled to campaign funding through the PAC; it's also paying for the salaries of the Stand for Children Indiana staff and their communications efforts.
I have a lot of interest in hearing from parents, educators, and others who are seriously engaged in the health of our community schools. After all the revisions, reservations, and mishaps of last year's ISTEP, Mr. Ohlemiller, a former communications officer at ad agency TrendyMinds, exhorts us to accept its legitimacy and accuracy. For whom does he speak?
P.S. Thanks to Steve Hinnefeld for referring me to Hayleigh Colombo's Chalkbeat Indiana article on the spending in the 2014 IPS race. I've amended this post to reflect information from that article.