Winning candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools board positions spent over a half million dollars on their 2020 campaigns, with most of the money coming from advocacy groups that back school choice.
At-large candidate Kenneth Allen spent half that total — $255,742 — to be elected to an office that pays about $6,000 a year, including per-diem payments for meetings and events. The winning candidates outspent their opponents by 10-to-1 on the November 2020 election, according to campaign finance reports filed this month with the Marion County clerk’s office.
The four ran as a slate in favor of continuing the district’s policy of promoting “innovation network schools,” which include charter schools and district schools that operate with charter-like autonomy.
“The proliferation of innovation schools — district schools operated by charter organizations and nonprofit school managers with non-union teachers — was a driving issue among candidates,” WFYI’s Eric Weddle wrote in a story about the election results. “The political action committees that poured money into the race support the controversial reform created by lawmakers in 2015.”
Along with Allen, winning candidates were Will Pritchard, Venita Moore and Diane Arnold. (Moore and Arnold were incumbents). About three-fourths of the slate’s funding came from three groups: Stand for Children Indiana, RISE Indy and Hoosiers for Great Public Schools.
Hoosiers for Great Public Schools was formed last year by Bart Peterson, former Indianapolis mayor and now head of Christel House International. It raised $900,000 from two individuals: $700,000 from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and $200,000 from former gas trader and hedge fund manager John Arnold. The PAC gave $80,000 to Allen’s IPS campaign and contributed heavily to Indiana House Republicans.
It provided much of the funding for RISE Indy, which campaigned for Allen, Pritchard, Moore and Arnold. RISE also received six-figure contributions from Walmart heiress Alice Walton and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Like Hastings and Arnold, they are prominent supporters of charter schools.
Allen won by just 2 percentage points over IPS incumbent Elizabeth Gore in a four-way race, despite outspending Gore by over 10-to-1. Arnold won by just over 4 percentage points in a two-way race with Christina Smith, an advocate for traditional public schools. Pritchard and Moore won their races handily.
Gore received $20,000 in support from the Indiana State Teachers Association while Smith and Brandon Randall, who lost to Pritchard, each reported getting $11,000 from the union. The winners spent about $8 for every vote they received while their opponents spent a little over $1 per vote.