Lilly Endowment: Link Between Education Dysfunction & Poor Wellness

MUNCIE, INNEWS– Last week, we got the results of Gallup-Healthways wellness rankings showing Indiana slipping into the 48th spot, or slightly healthier than Kentucky and West Virginia – two other states known for polluted air and water. There is no coincidence that we also happen to be “coal loving states”. In Indiana, we depend on coal to meet 90% of our energy needs, and as our governor recently proclaimed in his State of the State address, “Indiana loves coal”. Politicians might like the money coal companies pay them to make silly statements like this on national television, but Hoosier’s lungs don’t enjoy breathing in coal ash.

However, this article isn’t about the coal industry, though it could easily be about our energy sector. It’s about holding entities accountability regardless of the costs. Those entities who use money, and the influence it buys, to promote profits over serving the will of the people. It’s also about a progressive vision if those powers were used to improve the Hoosier state and make it the envy of our nation.

We mainly want to focus on two separate, but connected systems and the one organization linking them together in a disingenuous way:

  1. Public Education (specifically K-12)
  2. Health and Wellness
  3. Lilly Endowment

What is Muckraking?

First off, what is muckraking? It was originally used by President Teddy Roosevelt as a negative, but the term grew more positive. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The muckrakers’ work grew out of the yellow journalism of the 1890s, which whetted the public appetite for news arrestingly presented, and out of popular magazines, especially those established by S.S. McClure…the intense public interest aroused by articles critical of political corruption, industrial monopolies, and fraudulent business practices rallied journalists, novelists, and reformers of all sorts to sharpen their criticism of American society.

We think this fits us perfectly as we often lament about the yellow journalism used by Gannett owned newspapers in our community and Indianapolis.

Indiana’s Health Plan

Okay, lets start digging. First off, we can almost guarantee that nobody knew we had a written health plan for Indiana. The current five-year plan was written in 2011 and signed by Mitch Daniels. It states, “The State Health Improvement Plan envisions optimal mental, physical, environmental, social, and intellectual well-being for all Hoosiers leading to a healthy, productive, vibrant and prosperous state.”

More specifically:

Indiana‘s needed health improvement will only occur with strategic and productive interaction with all elements that influence Hoosier health. This requires a statewide systematic and consistent approach that creates a dynamic network of health promotion, measured outcomes, and improved delivery of critical services.

It specifically identifies partners like: “hospitals, health departments, nonprofits, universities, food establishments, surgery centers, etc.”

With a ranking of 48th in the country, we’d say implementation of the plan has been an epic failure. While the plan mentioned a few established sectors, we’re going to focus on the “etc.”.

Also, notice we highlighted the word “systemic” from the verbiage above. This is extremely important when considering accountability. We didn’t bother sending an email to Governor Pence’s office asking for his response to our poor health rankings. As we’ve seen with our extremely high infant mortality rates, Governor Pence blames the problem on “poorly educated single mothers”. He blames mothers, not the system.

Who’s Accountable for Our Poor Health

His predecessor says it’s a systemic problem, yet Pence blames the individual. If Pence was consistent with his assessment of accountability, then we’d be okay with it. However, he’s not, nor was his predecessor.

ICYMI; Pence has hired “Big Data” to analyze multiple factors for why Indiana leads the country in infant mortality. He’s paying them $500 thousand to run multiple variables through their software to see what comes up. It’s interesting to note that Gallup-Healthways uses infant mortality as one of the measuring criteria for wellness.

The contradiction or hypocrisy starts rearing its ugly head at this point.

Nobody reached out to “Big Data” to analyze education variables before Ed Reformers made recommendations on how to improve our “failing educational system”. Based on all of our digging, the reform turning point came in reaction to international PISA results showing 15-year-old American’s lagging our international competition. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy every three years.

Big Data wasn’t hired to find out why our test scores were lower. They didn’t drill down to look what variables were influencing these poor results. They didn’t even analyze the PISA test itself. The education reformers declared the system broken and proposed “school choice”, or a free market concept as the solution to what ails our educational system. As Mike Pence testified before Congress, “I firmly believe that competition makes us better.”

We wonder why the same response hasn’t been taken on health and wellness. With our consistently low health and wellness rankings, why didn’t Mitch Daniels set out to reform health and wellness? Our poor rankings didn’t just arrive in 2011, or 2014. We’ve been at the bottom of the wellness ranking for years.

Just to clarify where we are so far:

  • High infant mortality rates – we blame the individual.
  • Low student achievement test scores – we blame the system.

Accountability principles aren’t being uniformly applied. Consider Indiana’s health plan highlighted above – we focus on the “health care system”. Why aren’t we blaming the students for poor test results?

If we used the same logic on education, we’d analyze demographic variables like poverty, percentage of kids living with single mothers, percentage of kids living in homes with stay at home mothers versus both parents working, etc.

Education reformers aren’t bothering to look at causes of the low test scores. Instead, they are using the low individual test scores to justify and/or rationalize their desire to dismantle public education and get rid of teacher unions. In order to get support for their efforts, they’ve literally demonized union participation as “protectors of lazy teachers who’ve failed our students”. They refer to our educational system as socialist and un-American.

This outright disrespect for the teaching profession has deterred our young people from wanting to be teachers. At Ball State alone, enrollment in teacher education classes are down 25%.

In Indiana, who is behind much of this education reform? Who is demonizing teacher unions? Who is demoralizing teachers by calling them failures? Who is funding the charter school movement? Who is funneling money to politicians to create policies which hurt public education? Who is pushing for religious school vouchers?

Why Doesn’t the Lilly Endowment Support Wellness

While we look for answers, let’s also pose a few questions about health and wellness. We know that for every $1.00 invested in health and wellness, we make a return of $3.00. This 300% Return on Income (ROI) is a standard used across the industry. So, why aren’t we investing in programs that benefit health and wellness? If the government, our public sector using our tax dollars, can make returns of 300%, why isn’t every single local and state government investing in health and wellness options for its citizens? Why isn’t every private sector company investing in health and wellness options for its employees?

When we’ve asked these questions to public officials, the typical response is, “We don’t want our constituents to think we consider them obese.”

Really? We’ve heard public officials accuse teachers of being “lazy”, “needy” and “grossly overpaid”.

Forget the rhetoric, let’s do more muckraking.

Indiana senators, Dan Coats (R) and Joe Donnelly (D), both boast about how Indiana leads the country with our medical device making corporations. Both senators railed against the medial device tax to fund Obamacare. We also have the 8th largest pharmaceutical company in the world based on revenues with Eli Lilly, Inc. Our health sector is a true powerhouse and we’re not even considering our outstanding network of hospitals.

Yet, we rank 48th in health and wellness in the country. How is this possible?

Forget about the Wall Street companies who are use their billions to lobby Washington for special breaks and policies to uphold the status-quo – making sure billions flow to the bottom line.

Instead, let’s take a closer look at a tax-exempt non-profit called the Lilly Endowment. According to Wikipedia:

Lilly Endowment Inc., headquartered in Indianapolis is one of the world’s largest private philanthropic foundations and is among the largest such endowments in the United States. The Endowment, a private foundation, is in a different location, has a different board of directors, and is not linked to the company, except for the significant percentage of the company’s stock it holds. The foundation has historically had three primary areas of grantmaking: community development, education and religion. Lilly Endowment is unique in that it is the largest private foundation in the United States that funds almost exclusively in its home city and state and one of few major foundations to fund religion.

What nearly jumps off the page is the “Endowment” doesn’t focus on health and wellness. Think for a moment. We have the largest private foundation in the United States which derives its wealth from the stock of a health care company, but it doesn’t focus on wellness with its philanthropic endeavors.

Instead of being motivated by health and wellness, their “Endowment” is focused on “community development, religion and education.”

More specifically, the “Endowment” is interested in education reform and directs funds to another non-profit they control called the Mind Trust. From Wikipedia:

The Mind Trust was founded in 2006 by Bart Peterson, the former Mayor of Indianapolis, and David Harris, Mayor Peterson’s former charter schools director. Bart Peterson is now chair of The Mind Trust’s Board of Directors and David Harris is the President and CEO. The Mind Trust is an outgrowth of the Mayor Peterson’s charter schools initiative. In 2001, the Mayor of Indianapolis became the nation’s only mayor with the authority to charter schools. In July 2006, the initiative won Harvard University’s Innovations in American Government Award.

Wikipedia doesn’t go into the financial connectedness like Doug Martin does in his book, Hoosier School Heist, which connects the money of the “Endowment” to Mind Trust and other players like Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Daniel Elsener, Tony Bennett and many others. Some would call these guys the “players” behind privatizing public education in Indiana. Doug digs in and explores campaign finance reports, Form 990’s and tax returns. If you want specifics, visit Amazon to buy his book. If you’re in the education field, specifically K-12, you need to read his book. If you are a voter in Indiana, you need to read his book. It’s a short read, but as nationally acclaimed educational historian Diane Ravitch wrote:

To anyone who questions the existence of the privatization movement, I recommend Doug Martin’s “Hoosier School Heist.” Martin is a blogger who holds a Ph.D. in nineteenth century American literature. He is a native of Indiana who is deeply versed in that state’s school politics and its major (and minor) players. His book is eye-opening; actually, his book is eye-popping. It is a no-holds-barred critique of Indiana’s politically and financially powerful privatization movement.

So, instead of using profits derived from the healthcare industry to invest and improve the health and wellness of every Hoosier, the Lilly Endowment uses its money to destroy public education – the bedrock of our democracy.

In addition, privatizing public education is segregating rich white kids from poor urban minorities. They are replacing well-trained teachers with replacement teachers taught by the Christian school, Marian College. These poorly trained teachers are then sent into the toughest urban schools and expected to work miracles. We are hearing that Teach for America teachers aren’t renewing their contracts, and their results are worse than public education teachers.

They also use their money and influence to get politicians from both sides of the political aisle to write laws diverting public tax dollars to rich parents who send their kids to private schools.

According to Doug Martin:

“The Mind Trust typifies America’s counterfeit political Left. Mouthing the rhetoric of class warfare, civil rights, and female empowerment, the mock liberals at Education Sector, the Center for American Progress, and the New America Foundation, all supportive of the Mind Trust specifically or school privatization in general (and most bringing home six-figure salaries), attack teachers unions and public schools and connive to mount in place a school system based on corporate profit, one which disenfranchises the female teachers and minority and poor students they claim to be helping.”

Lilly Hurts Our Health, Schools and Wallets

If this wasn’t bad enough, let’s take a look at what else Lilly does with its money. While Mind Trust  helps destroy public education in Indiana, and many other states where they operate, Eli Lilly, Inc. uses lobbying dollars to make sure vast profits continue for their pharmaceutical parent company. They influence politicians on both sides of the aisle to make sure health care reforms don’t hurt their profits.

President Obama started down a path of universal health care coverage for all Americans, where the government established a fixed cost for goods and services, the lobbying influence of firms like Eli Lilly pushed back against Obama’s plan. Instead, we got a watered down version which included personal mandates and exchange reforms, thus guaranteeing profits for drug companies and medical device makers. Real reforms were needed for healthcare costs. Instead, politicians are now wanting to cut benefits.

Ezra Klein, before he left the Washington Post, wrote:

A health-care system that followed international best practices would direct the government to set rates. Or it would let insurers band together and negotiate rates collectively — a practice called “all-payer rate setting.” But it wouldn’t need to eliminate private insurers. It’s good for consumers to have a choice of insurers, who have real incentives to innovate and devise better ways to keep customers healthy and costs down.

It’s health-care providers — not insurers — who have too much power in the U.S. system. As a result, they have the most to lose if health-care prices fall. But, as is often the case, political power flows in part from popularity. So politicians who routinely rail against for-profit insurers are scared to criticize — much less legislate against — for-profit hospitals, doctors or device manufacturers (though drug companies come in for a drubbing now and then).

We’re not going to draw any conclusions about the true motivations of why Lilly doesn’t use their vast dollars and influence to get Hoosiers well – our readers can draw their own conclusions.  What we find astonishing is 80% of our diseases are preventable. Our food industry pollutes our body and so does the energy sector. Ask your doctor about the number of people who come into the doctor when the crops are sprayed in Indiana. Read about the use of antibiotics in the food we eat – each year more antibiotics are sold and injected into our food sources than hospitals. Questions like, “Who is benefiting financially from our sickness and disease?” are both practical and relevant.

If our government really served the will of the people, why aren’t they pushing public health policies and demanding funding from those industries who cause our diseases or profit from our illnesses? If our public officials were concerned about the costs of healthcare, why cut back on benefits to our elderly and disabled? Why not set costs for drugs and services like other industrialized countries?

Instead, it’s profit over people. We all watch both political parties begging for dollars while highly profitable health care companies use profits to dismantle public education.

What’s even more maddening is we have to listen to conservative lawmakers like Mike Pence and Luke Messer lament about ‘big government’, ‘our nations deficit’ and ‘conservative Hoosier values’ while they sit by watching an Indiana “Endowment” use their dollars to destroy a highly respectable career choice for thousands of Hoosiers and millions of Americans. Not only do they watch it, they collect bribes (campaign contributions) from them insuring they keep their mouths shut.

A Progressive Vision for Indiana

It’s painful to watch because it wouldn’t be that difficult to make meaningful changes. It all begins by asking yourself these questions and demanding answers from our statewide leaders in both the public and private sectors. Think priorities. Think people over profits.

Imagine for one moment if Eli Lilly, Inc. told our federal government to go ahead with fixing drug prices to help save our country trillions of dollars. How much money could our parents or grandparents save each month? How much would all of us save each month on our health care budget? What about living without the stress of one medical issue causing our family to go bankrupt? Imagine being able to invest those dollars in our kids education and preparing them for the future.

What would happen if the Lilly Endowment instructed Mind Trust to admit they made a mistake about charter schools and told lawmakers to empower teachers and parents to reform their local schools? The research is proving they are wrong about charter schools. Maybe the increasing number of kids living in poverty has created an extra burden on the household which cannot be overcome. Both parents are working – spending less time helping their children with homework. Let’s use Big Data to see if there are any correlations with poverty and lower test scores.

With a change in focus and priorities, many positive outcomes could be within our reach.

What if the Lilly Endowment established wellness coordinators and programs in the 92 counties across the state using their knowledge and money to bring health, prosperity and wellness to every single Hoosier family? Can you imagine how many American families would want to move to Indiana? Can you picture how many employers would want to move here to gain access to healthy employees?

We wouldn’t have to incentivize companies with subsidies and tax credits – literally begging them to come here with dollars and promises of low wages and no business regulations.

None of these questions are insulting. None of the recommendations are far-fetched. We’re sure you can find even more solutions and will think up your own questions for Governor Pence, Bart Peterson or your local public representative. Maybe even ask your doctor a couple of questions the next time you visit them.

All the solutions are attainable. It’s simply shifting priorities and leadership. We don’t have to pick and choose whether we’ll be a state focusing on business initiatives, or an Indiana centered on quality of life issues. We can have both with strong vision and leadership. Indiana would be a vibrant progressive community – the envy of not just the Midwest, but the nation.

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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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