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Campaign for IPS tax referendums gets a $100,000 boost from advocacy group

Dylan Peers McCoy

A parent organizing and advocacy group is donating $100,000 to the campaign for more taxpayer funding for Indianapolis Public Schools.

Stand for Children Indiana, the local chapter of a national organization, will also launch a vast door-knocking campaign in support of two referendums requesting an extra $272 million from taxpayers, the group announced Thursday. Stand’s backing could prove crucial for the district, which has struggled to garner community support for more funding.

“The thousands of IPS parents and supporters affiliated with our organization have made clear that more money is needed for our classrooms – especially when it comes to boosting pay for teachers,” said Stand Indiana Executive Director Justin Ohlemiller in a statement. “We have to invest in our educators and support the work being done by IPS leaders to attract and retain quality teachers in IPS.”

Ohlemiller said Stand identified more than 6,500 supporters for Indianapolis Public School’s tax measures through a canvassing effort in the spring.

The donation will go to Vote Yes for IPS, a political action committee supporting the tax increase.

“It represents a substantial investment from the leading grassroots education group in the city,” said Robert Vane, the lead consultant for Vote Yes for IPS. Vane said the money would be used for a “significant and energetic effort” to reach people in the district with direct mail, neighborhood canvassing, and advertising on media outlets.

The campaign to support two referendums on the ballot in November will likely ramp up in the coming weeks. After months of uncertainty over how much the district would seek, the school board voted last month to ask for $220 million in operating funds over eight years, in addition to $52 million for building improvements. The board settled on that request as part of a compromise with the Indy Chamber, which supports the tax measures, but last week, the group said it had not yet decided whether to actively campaign for the measures.

Compared to other recent campaigns for referendums in Marion County, $100,000 is a massive contribution. The political action committee that supported the referendums in Washington Township raised $45,385 in 2016. Much of that came from small donors, although Central Indiana Building Trades donated $11,000. The Wayne Township campaign raised $14,148 in 2015.

Stand is politically controversial. It often supports innovation schools, which are run in partnership with charter or nonprofit operators, and it lobbies for policies at the state level. The group also backs candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools Board, and it played a role in transforming the race from one where candidates could fund their campaigns with donations from friends and neighbors to one that attracts cash from national heavyweights.

But Stand also does significant organizing work with Indianapolis parents and trains them to advocate for themselves.

Candice Raysor, a mother of a third grader at Ignite Achievement Academy at School 42, said in the statement that the district needs to invest more in teachers.

“As I look at my own child and the teachers that have made an impact, I know we need educators who will make a difference in the lives of children in the district,” Raysor said.

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