Star political columnist Matthew Tully had nothing but glowing comments to say about Mayor Greg Ballard's plan to raise taxes to fund a new pre-K education initiated and backed by Eli Lilly. Here's a sample of what he recently wrote:
Mayor Greg Ballard recently proposed, as part of an anti-crime package, an ambitious effort to invest in early childhood education. If approved by the City-County Council, the plan would spend $50 million, half of it from government funds, on preschool scholarships over the next five years for 4-year-olds who come from low-income families.
The rest of the money would come from corporate, nonprofit and other private contributions. Making clear that there is a willing public-private partnership waiting to be formed, Eli Lilly and Co. has stepped up to both demand action and promise significant financial support for the initiative.
If the Republican mayor and the Democrat-controlled council can work out a deal to approve the mayor’s plan, or something equivalent, Lilly will work with other businesses to raise $10 million over the next three years for the preschool plan, pitching in the first $2 million from the Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation, company officials said Friday. The offer is a reminder that the business community has helped lead the push to improve the state of education in Marion County in recent years, and that there is a growing frustration with the deep partisanship that has stalled action on crucial issues, from public safety to infrastructure repairs, at the City-County Building.
“We can no longer afford this small-ball politics that has defined how we address problems,” said Robert Smith, president of the Lilly Foundation and the company’s senior director for corporate responsibility. “The message our CEO is sending is that this is critical to the future of our community. And while we can be catalytic, this is the responsibility of our elected officials to sit down and get this done.”
Smith said company CEO John Lechleiter has sent “a clear directive” that Lilly should use its unique position in the community to convince political leaders “to do this now.” With a potential council vote in September, and a need to secure long-term public funding at the Statehouse, he said this will be a major focus of the company.
So to make things clear: If the council plays games with this issue, or if the mayor fails to create a healthy dialogue with council leaders, they will leave a promise of $10 million on the table — $10 million that could set thousands of kids on a better path toward the future. While our city’s leaders should do the right thing for the right reasons, it’ll be nice to have this added incentive to help out.
Lilly’s leaders will soon pitch the idea in detail to CEOs and other business leaders in the community and plan to host an event on Sept. 12 focused on the vast and proven benefits of early education — benefits that help students socially and academically, while providing companies with stronger schools and talent pools, and communities and schools with savings on everything from remedial classes to incarceration. Smith said preliminary discussions with the business community about corporate contributions to get the preschool program started have attracted “strong conceptual support.”
The effort comes “at an inflection point in time in the city,” said Lilly executive Ed Sagebiel, noting that concerns about crime and dropout rates are mixing with a growing understanding of the role early learning plays in shaping a child’s future. While Democrats have long argued in favor of public funding for preschool, the state’s conservative governor, Mike Pence, has of late become the state’s most important champion of it, pushing a preschool pilot program through a skeptical legislature this year. Ballard, meanwhile, has taken the political risk of seeking to raise taxes for preschool a year before the next election.
Mike O’Connor, a Lilly lobbyist who served as the chief of staff in former Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration, said the data on preschool has guided the decision to put the company’s weight behind this effort. While the company will continue to support efforts to improve K-12 education, he said it is clear that reaching further back into the lives of many children is also a necessity.
“This is an opportunity to engage in what has proven to be sound public policy, to set aside partisan politics, and to do something in a bigger way than has been done before,” he said. “We can move the needle in a bipartisan way.” . . .
There are valid questions about how the city should pay for Ballard’s proposal, and a smart public debate could lead to improvements in the plan. But it is indisputably clear that more children need access to high-quality preschools, and that too many children in this city arrive at kindergarten already at a high risk of failing in school.
That reality is both heartbreaking for those children and devastating for the city’s future. To alter it, big and bold moves are needed. And it is nice to see leaders in this community stepping up to help make it happen.It's "indisputably clear" according to Tully that raising city taxes and spending it on pre-K education spending proposal backed by Mayor Ballard and Eli Lilly will keep at-risk kids from failing in school. Was Tully leaving something out that might have some influence over his sweeping conclusion?
Now here's what Tully didn't tell you but should have told you as an ethical journalist. Tully's wife, Valerie Tully, is employed at Eli Lilly as a Global Public Policy Director where she is responsible for "reviewing legislative and administrative proposals to determine corporate position and enable external engagement in support of that position" according to her LinkedIn profile. In other words, she's paid to influence what supposed journalists like her husband communicate to us.
It gets better. It seems Valerie Tully also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Day Nursery Association of Indiana, a nonprofit which operates eight Indianapolis area child care centers that provide day care and education services daily to more than 800 children. Day Nursery gets its funding from parent fees, federal Title XX funds, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Step Ahead councils, United Way, corporate and foundation grants and private donations according to the nonprofit's website. Suffice it to say that Day Nursery will be the recipient of any new tax dollars generated for Ballard's pre-K initiative. And did I mention that Jason Kloth, Mayor Ballard's deputy mayor for education, who was responsible for fashioning the administration's pre-K proposal, also sits on Day Nursery's board of director with Tully's wife? Conflict of interest? Any other questions?
UPDATE: Lilly executives Mike O'Connor and Robert Smith were guests on Amos Brown's radio talk show last week to pitch the pre-K tax and spend plan. O'Connor actually identifies the Day Nursery by name as providing the type of early childhood education that would be funded by the program. O'Connor, by the way, was one of the architects of Peterson's 65% local income tax increase that sank Peterson's re-election bid who once derisively referred to Ballard as a "jar head." He now has nothing but glowing comments for Ballard's tax and spend plan. Of course, O'Connor will be supporting Ballard's Democrat opponent next year and will be happy to see Ballard's knuckle head of an idea help sink his re-election bid.
Matt Tully has e-mailed me concerning his response to my blog post. Here's his reply:
Thanks for raising important issues. You didn't ask me for comment but I thought I should share some information.
First, my wife is a volunteer board member at Day Nursery. She is not paid -- rather, she does this because she believes in the value of early learning for at-risk children. We have absolutely no financial interest in Day Nursery. The volunteering is a huge time commitment for her, but she does it gladly. Personally, I could not be more proud of, or inspired by, the volunteer work that she does.
Second, the Linked In page you reference is outdated. My wife now works in Six Sigma at Lilly and has no involvement whatsoever in the company preschool effort I wrote about, and she never has been involved in that in her job.
Third, I ran this by my bosses prior to writing about the Lilly pre-K effort to make sure they were comfortable with it. They were, based on the reasons outlined here.
Fourth, I have been very vocal in support of public funding for preschool for several years. It has been one of the most consistent themes of my column since the beginning. It was an issue, for example, in the 2007 mayoral campaign and in the 2014 General Assembly. I was a strong advocate for expanded access to preschool in both of those cases. Although I generally don't write about Lilly, I did in this case because this crossed into a non-business issue I care deeply about (and that I was already firmly on record supporting). It is important to pause here and note that I wasn't writing about earnings, the FDA or other regulatory issues. I was writing about a push to increase access to preschool for low-income kids.
Finally, I believe there is nothing more important in this city than improving the chances that at-risk children have access to high-quality preschool. I have written that over and over. And that's why I wrote this column -- because it encourages Democrats on the City-County Council to work with the Republican mayor to get this done. I will continue to loudly support this effort going forward, and I will praise any group, company, politician or individual who embraces that cause.I appreciate Matt taking the time to respond. It doesn't really change my concerns. I assumed his wife wasn't paid to serve on Day Nursery's board of directors, although her volunteer role there would be looked upon very favorably by her employer given its long history of support for the Day Nursery since its founding. I assumed her Linkedin page was up-to-date, but again, it doesn't change the fact that she is still employed in a high-level capacity for Lilly. As I had indicated in one of my earlier comments, I was certain that his bosses at the Star were well aware of what his wife did for a living and had no qualms with him writing on a subject that touched on an issue advocated by her employer because it's a position supported by the editorial management of the newspaper. Matt's personal view on the value of pre-K education speak for itself. Matt was a bit less contrite in his Twitter post on the subject, where he falsely claims I called for him to be fired from his job: