Indiana Youth Institute, “End Poverty With Better Education”?

MUNCIE, Indiana NEWS– This year’s Kids Count results from the Annie E. Casey Foundation have been released, and the Hoosier state has “mixed to improved education results”, according to most newspapers. A press release was sent out last week from the Indiana Youth Institute with several remarks about the report and most Hoosier newspapers simple passed along the information verbatim. Once again, we are very disappointed in the lack of effort shown by our fellow editors to actually look pass the prepared narrative.

Let’s face it, it wasn’t an invite to a conference where you can just pass along the information without much thought. This is a significant study done every year with outcomes used to judge how well or poorly the country, and Indiana, is doing with our education and social policies. However, it’s tough to get at the truth without investigative journalism.

We’ve been following education experts like Diane Ravitch on a federal level, and Doug Martin in Indiana. We also host Indiana Talk’s, Justin Oakley, a former teacher, now radio talk show host. You won’t find them being interviewed in most Hoosier newspapers. Why not?

It’s easy to head over to the statehouse and share the continuing conflict between Governor Mike Pence’s appointed education board and our elected superintendent of public education, Glenda Ritz. While it might sell newspapers or make good sound bytes for TV, it doesn’t inform Hoosiers. It’s surface noise.

Most recently, the Evansville Courier wrote an editorial about wanting “one school chief” to avoid the arguments. They don’t care if it’s a republican or democrat – “a governor appointee would solve the problem”.

True, there might be less bickering, but the editors are completely missing the point.

Here is what the Courier wrote:

It should be abundantly clear by now that Indiana needs an appointed, not an elected, superintendent of public instruction.

This newspaper has called for years for an appointed superintendent, but it wasn’t until the past year that the potential for chaos was fully realized. Ritz, a Democrat, was elected to the post over incumbent Republican superintendent Tony Bennett.

This essentially gives Indiana two education leaders — Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence — calling the sometimes conflicting shots, along with the state board of education which leans heavily Republican.

This is a disturbing statement coming from a newspaper. Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, one theme across the country surfacing over the last couple of years is POLITICIANS shouldn’t be in charge of education policy in this country. Period. When you consider our political system is broken and corrupted, we certainly don’t need them influencing education policies (hold that thought).

For instance, ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have one specific idea for the purpose of public education – train future workers. These antagonists have another goal – end teacher unions. You can see specific goals of ALEC and their corporate members here.

As an ALEC sponsored governor, Mike Pence’s appointed education department (CECI), who is circumventing Glenda Ritz, created a strategic plan last month emphasizing “career programming and counseling” early in a student’s life. Aligning a students curriculum with future private sector needs are the goal of Pence/CECI and existing Work Councils across the state. The private sector wants to use public education dollars to fulfill an anticipated industry need.

This corporatization of our public schools is endorsed by President Barack Obama and backed financially by the Billionaires Club with surnames of Gates, Walton, Bradley and DeVos. Head over to Doug Martin’s site, Hoosier School Heist, to read more about how Hoosier public schools have been systematically pillaged by greedy theocratic interests like Eli Lilly’s Mind Trust which has been behind privatization efforts in Indiana from the beginning.

So, you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with Kids Count and the Indiana Youth Institute. Once you drop below the surface noise, you’ll better understand. This is why we are so hard on editors at other newspapers for just printing a press release without spending a few extra moments digging for the truth.

It helps to understand the players and the background of the school privatization effort in Indiana to understand what motivates Bill Stanczykiewicz, CEO of Indiana Youth Institute, who announced the Kids Count findings of the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

“While Indiana’s national ranking in child poverty has improved, the number of low-income children in the Hoosier state remains stubbornly high,” said Stanczykiewicz. “The reasons for poverty are many and complex, but national research confirms (emphasis added) that academic attainment is a primary pathway out of poverty. Continued improvement in Indiana’s education outcomes would lead to greater long-term reductions in Indiana’s child poverty rate.”

We wrestled with Bill’s conclusion of “higher academic attainment will lead to less Hoosiers in poverty” since our trends have shown exactly the opposite. Vouchers have allowed the transition of “mobile families” from public education system with their voucher dollars leaving the poorer, less mobile families, in declining public school systems.

When you consider the statistics provided in the Annie E. Casey, Kids Count report, education results have improved, but poverty still increased. Bill’s press release negates his own conclusion. Despite the improvement in Indiana’s educational results, the rate of poverty remained the same indicating that “educational improvement” didn’t have a positive impact on rates of poverty.

More specifically, the rate of poverty from 2008 to 2012 went up from 13% to 16% of total population in Indiana. So despite educational gains over the past several years, the rate of poverty continues edging higher – not declining. Living in poverty adds many other barriers on attaining a quality education.

In an interview last week with IPM’s Gretchen Frazee, Mr. Stanczykiewicz said:

“Even if we somehow magically solved all of those challenges, there’s something that’s maybe even stronger and more insidious, and that’s the emotional destitution that kids feel…even meeting the physical needs of those children will only go so far.”

If you talk with Diane Ravitch, or any other educational expert, including most teachers, they will point to poverty as the number one cause for difficulties in the classroom, yet even our federal government seems stupefied to act.

We’re not looking for “magic”, but we are looking for effort. Former Gov. Daniels withholding $330 million from public schools, slashing social programs and locking in lower wages through Right to Work legislation showed zero effort.

We’ve fully documented time and time again that Gov. Pence has made no effort to help public education or those locked into generational poverty. Even when voters made their voices heard in 2012, he wasted no time in circumventing Glenda Ritz and pushing his own destructive plans – shifting dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.

I guess we had high expectations from the Indiana Youth Institute, whose mission is “The Indiana Youth Institute promotes the healthy development of Indiana children and youth by serving the people, institutions and communities that impact their well-being”, but we got nothing addressing poverty, the growing inequality in our state, or the fact Hoosier wages are stuck in the 1990’s hurting the families stuck in poverty.

In the spirit of a second chance, we went back and entered the keyword, “poverty”, in their website’s online search to see how often they address poverty. Sadly, only two articles on poverty and neither were relevant. Are they not concerned with Hoosier children living in poverty, or do they have another agenda?

We dug a little further on their Form 990, and the primary financial supporter of the youth institute was none other than the Eli Lilly Foundation, the main funder behind the Mind Trust, which has been front and center of the public school privatization efforts in Indiana. Again, we refer you to Doug Martins book, Hoosier School Heist.

Susan Ohanian, recipient of the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, and co-author of Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools, said this about Doug’s book, “Doug Martin’s work documents a horrendous corporate takeover of community schools and community values.  It shows how corporate interests often disguise themselves as foundation largesse (Eli Lilly).  It shows what’s likely coming to your community soon.”  

We also discovered that Indiana Youth Institute recently hired Molly Chamberlin from Pence’s Center for Education and Career Initiatives (CECI) which regularly makes headlines for circumventing the democratically elected Glenda Ritz. Molly was a co-worker of Tony Bennett who recently got slapped with an ethics violation and assessed a miniscule $5,000 fine. It’s a small world, huh?

Teachers are being hammered by corporate reformers funded by Eli Lilly Foundation – the same foundation who funneled over $4 million into the Indiana Youth Institute while the US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries. The “institute” which they fund tells Hoosiers, “We can improve poverty by improving education, and the best way to do that, is fire teachers and replace them with computers and untrained aides.”

At the state level, we have a governor who built a $2 billion Rainy Day Fund on the backs of working Hoosiers while Muncie Community Schools suffers to find money for yellow buses to transport kids to school.

I challenge editors with all Indiana newspapers to use your investigative journalism skills to help educate Hoosiers about who the players are pulling the strings of elected politicians, institutes, and non-profits around the state. Knowing the players behind the scenes will help Hoosiers make better decisions at the polling booths.

From what I’m seeing along social media fronts, some Hoosiers are getting smarter. They’re asking questions and seeking out the truth. With this knowledge, they can hold public officials accountable.

It does make you wonder if the austerity imposed upon the American people is legitimate or manufactured by monied interests so they can influence our social landscape through their foundations, institutes and NGO’s. Knowledge is power.

In an article this past week in the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv quotes the former dean of education at Arizona State, who says “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance, are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty.”


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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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