Who's giving money to IPS school board candidates?

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo

The big money so far in the Indianapolis Public School Board race is going to challengers, who share common ideas for changing the district, over the incumbents.

Money flowing into the race is coming both from local activists and high-profile national figures, such as Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Today was the deadline to file fundraising reports to the Marion County Election Board. Final reports will be filed after the Nov. 4 election.

The top fundraisers so far are former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan with more than $50,000, ex-school board member Kelly Bentley with more than $40,000,  charter school dean LaNier Echols with more than $30,000 and Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, who has brought in more than $20,000. All four favor increased autonomy for building principals, revamping teacher pay and partnering with charter schools.

Sullivan and Hampton are challenging school board president Annie Roof, who raised $4,200. Bentley is running against board member Samantha Adair-White, who has $1,100. Echols will go up against board member Michael Brown, who has about $420.

Overall, the seven challengers raised nearly $150,000. The incumbents raised about $6,000 between the three of them.

Campaign finance has become a central issue in the IPS school board race ever since an expensive 2012 election helped elect three new board members. Some candidates, like Roof, have criticized the high-dollar gifts and vowed not to accept any money from outside of Indiana.

Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat’s free Oct. 23 event with WFYI at the Central Library

The candidates’ campaign coffers are being filled by Indianapolis philanthropists, businesspeople and national education advocates, according to their financial filings.

There’s also money being spent on the race by advocacy organizations like Stand for Children, which doesn’t have to report to the county. Stand for Children is running its own campaigns backing Sullivan, Bentley and Echols by paying for advertisements on their behalf.

Here is what the candidates have raised so far, and who’s supporting them:

At-Large District: Sullivan and Hampton lead the way in fundraising

Sullivan, a veteran campaigner, won endorsements from groups like Stand for Children and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. She has earned $51,447 so far in contributions.

Notable contributions to her campaign include: $8,400 from Indy Chamber’s political action committee, $5,000 from Indianapolis philanthropist Al Hubbard, $2,000 from Christel House charter school founder Christel DeHaan, $500 from former Mayor Bart Peterson and $1,000 each from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and his wife Michelle Yee. She’s also received in-kind donations from the Indy Chamber to help with consulting.

Hampton also has raised a significant amount: $22,105, with $8,000 coming from Hubbard and DeHaan, who gave him $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. Other notable contributions include $5,000 from Indianapolis attorney Lacy Johnson, $200 from State Rep. Greg Porter’s political action committee and $100 from former mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy.

Roof has raised about $4,200 so far. Her biggest contribution $2,200 from Barbara Barrick. She also received $589 from The Pfahler Group, where she works as a marketing coordinator.

Butler University economics instructor Josh Owens has raised $2,208, with all of his donations coming in at $250 or less and most coming from Indianapolis and his hometown of Shelbyville.

Pastor Ramon Batts, an IPS athletic coach, has raised $525, with most coming from Baptist Ministers Foresight Alliance.

District 3: Kelly Bentley’s contributions dwarf incumbent

Bentley, who has been endorsed by both the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Stand for Children, reported she’s raised $41,723 so far, including nearly $10,000 in in-kind donations, dwarfing Samantha Adair-White’s $1,100. James Turner had not submitted his campaign finance filing by the Marion County Election Board’s 12 p.m. Friday deadline, according to a list of filings on its website.

Bentley’s contributions come from Indianapolis residents and education reform advocates across the country. Her biggest check came from Hubbard in the amount of $5,000. New York-based Stephen Suess gave her $2,500. (Suess is Bentley’s brother and the gift was website services, not cash.)

Her other notable contributions include: $1,500 from Stacy Schusterman, $1,000 each from LinkedIn’s Hoffman and wife Yee and $500 from Facebook’s Sandberg. Bentley has also received a $7,000 in-kind consulting donation from the Indy Chamber’s PAC and $4,000 from the Indianapolis metals warehouse Steel House.

Adair-White has raised $1,100 for her campaign, with more than half coming from her husband Jeffrey C. White.

District 5: Echols out-raises Brown by more than $30K

Can the longest serving school board member keep his seat on the board despite raising pennies compared to his challenger, whose contributions come from zip codes spanning from New York to California?

Michael Brown, who has served the Northwest side of the district since 1998, raised $310 for his campaign from July to October, with another $112 in cash that he started out with. Brown told Chalkbeat last month that he was confident in his grassroots support, but takes any challenger seriously.

LaNier Echols has friends with deep pockets.

Echols, a dean at Carpe Diem Meridian charter school who taught at IPS through Teach for America, has raked in more than $32,000 from April to Oct. 10. Intel Corp. founder and Teach for America board member Arthur Rock, who gave her $5,000, is her biggest contributor.

Notable contributions to her campaign include: $1,000 each from LinkedIn founder Hoffman and his wife Yee, $500 from Facebook’s Sandberg and $500 from Teach for America board member Suzanne Lehmann. (Disclosure: Lehmann is the chair of Chalkbeat’s board.)

She also received $7,000 in in-kind contributions from the Indy Chamber’s PAC for consulting, and another $1,200 in in-kind consulting from Washington D.C.-based Leadership for Educational Equity.

The election is Nov. 4. To read about the candidates’ positions on issues facing IPS, visit our interactive election tracker at

Note: This post has been updated to reflect that a New York-based contributor to Bentley’s campaign is her brother.)

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”