Following The Money

It was never about improving education.

I’ve posted several times about the World’s Worst Legislature’s continuing assault on public education–an assault defended on grounds that research has soundly debunked. An article from yesterday’s Indiana Capital Chronicle pulled back the (already pretty sheer) curtain on those legislative justifications.

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston maintained Thursday that virtual charter schools deserve equal funding as their brick-and-mortar counterparts and denied that a virtual education company he consults for would unfairly benefit from an increase in taxpayer dollars proposed in the state budget

The for-profit Stride, Inc. operates seven Indiana-based virtual public, charter and private schools, according to its website and as reported by the School Matters blog. 

Indiana virtual schools like Stride currently receive 85% of the per-pupil state funding that goes to “traditional” public schools. Funding would increase to 100% under the House Republican budget proposal that’s now under consideration in the Senate. 

That means virtual schools stand to get a significant funding boost. For instance, Union School Corporation’s enrollment is almost all virtual, and it will see a 30% increase in total base funding in the first year of the budget. By comparison the statewide average increase in base funding for all school would be 6%.

Based on its current student enrollment, Stride stands to win big, as well — to the tune of some $9 million.

Can we spell “conflict of interest”?

According to the report, Huston is one of at least 15 state lawmakers who provide “professional advice and guidance” to private businesses.

Huston started TMH Strategies Inc. last year, a little more than a month after his high-profile departure from a six-figure role at the College Board, according to his latest statement of economic interest.

He listed his consultancy’s current clients as Fishers-based tech company Spokenote, as well as Stride, Inc. — a for-profit education management organization that provides online curriculum to homeschooled kids and other schools. 

Lest we be tempted to give these lawmakers the benefit of the doubt–lest we be inclined to believe them when they claim to ignore the financial interests of their paying clients when legislating, we need only look at the involvement of a familiar name .

The President of Schools at Stride, Inc. is Tony Bennett — former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction before he was defeated in 2012 by Democrat Glenda Ritz.

Huston left Cisco Systems, Inc. in 2009 to serve as Bennett’s chief of staff at the state education department. But he returned to the company in 2010.

The Associated Press detailed Huston’s involvement in the 2012 sale of a $1.7 million Cisco videoconferencing system to the IDOE that officials later determined was a waste of taxpayer money.

Bennett also contributed $15,000 to Huston’s campaign account since 2020.

Many of you will remember Bennett. During his single term as Indiana’s Secretary of Education, he was touted as a “national leader in the Republican effort to overhaul public education.” After his defeat by Glenda Ritz, he was hired as Florida’s Education Commissioner by then-Governor Rick Scott, a post he was forced to resign when the AP reported that while serving in Indiana, he’d changed the state’s evaluation of a charter school founded by a prominent GOP donor.

As a former teacher–I started my professional life as a high school English teacher and later spent 21 years as a college professor–I have multiple reservations about virtual instruction, not to mention the state’s ability to confirm attendance figures reported by such schools. But even if those concerns can be addressed,  virtual schools don’t incur overhead for brick and mortar school buildings–they don’t pay for utilities, janitors and maintenance. They don’t provide school lunches or transportation. Why should they receive the same per-pupil dollars as schools that do incur those expenses? 

I guess the answer is: because they were savvy enough to hire the right “consultant.”

The assault on Indiana’s public schools has been unremitting and enormously damaging, but in Indiana, education isn’t the only policy area where deep pockets are more persuasive than logic, evidence or the public good. 

Again, the Capital Chronicle has the story.

Environmental activists decried the legislative process for two bills Thursday, saying they clearly benefited some of the state’s most powerful while harming the average Hoosier… 

On Wednesday, a House environmental committee opted to add controversial wetlands language to a Senate bill on sewage systems. Because the topic was unrelated and no notice was given, opponents had limited opportunity to give public testimony — a critical part of the legislative process. 

Meanwhile, the state’s biggest utility – and frequent campaign donor – Duke Energy already called upon a court to review a crucial ruling less than 24 hours after the House passed and Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill to recover “unexpected” additional costs from customers.

Gee–I wonder why Indiana ranks 43d among the states in education–and why we’re the most polluted…


  1. I moved to teaching college courses online as my husband’s Parkinson’s progressed to free up time for him and while its utilitarian, it never approaches the educational potential of face-to-face practice. Quite a few years ago I attended an academic conference addressing online courses and the potential of IT. One prediction (mine) was that only the very rich would attend physical schools and colleges where Socratic discussion dominates and critical thinking is encouraged.
    Granted online education is better than none but that’s a pretty low bar. I’ll add another prediction: soon for-profit education will use AI instead of teachers. Hopefully ethics and humanitarianism is built in, but don’t hold your breathe.

  2. Dirtiest and Dumbest…

    I wrote all about Bennett’s escapades along with Mitch Daniels. Because Bennett used his staff for his personal campaign, I got several email lists called the “GOP Big Hitters.” A list of donors all the GOP politicians would hit up for cash.

    To compete for power, do you think the Democrats relied on individual donations? LOL

    They are all owned, and if you follow this chain of scoundrels, you’ll see Mitch Daniels and the Bush brothers, especially in Florida. Jeb had plenty of contacts and deep intelligence players from Turkey who also ran schools in Indiana. Lots of corruption!!

    Toss in foreign trips for Indiana lawmakers and their spouses; you’ll understand why the press is under attack. The good journalists who at least tried to hold the scoundrels accountable have been fired from the IndyStar. I held them accountable – muckraking from the Gilded Age.

    Don’t you wonder why the GOP privatized the lotteries and all forms of betting? They passed legislation saying it was illegal to accept CAMPAIGN CHECKS, but don’t you think they received donations in other forms from the Irish and Italian mobs?

    Indiana is dirty, dumb, and corrupt…

  3. On this gloomy, wet morning, having just read this report on government corruption, I recommend reading The Book of Joy. It is based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

  4. So much to respond to on the blog today; where to start. First, let me say I support the issues Sheila has included as problematic and monetary conflicts of interest are rife in all issues at all levels today. Education, like all other issues of daily life, is now a political issue and a for-profit business for corporations and politicians.

    Virtual education vs. brick-and-mortar counterparts has one benefit not mentioned here. I recently spoke with a teacher friend who left public education because she is too afraid physically to return to brick-and-mortar teaching…which she got her education to do. This is not a new issue in schools here; I saw it 40 years ago in a night school math class at Arlington High School where the majority of students were seniors who needed the credit to graduate and the school wanted them gone. The teacher dodged books and other items thrown at him, closed the door to stop conversations between students in class with those passing in the hall. one of them would just reopen the door. Before you begin pointing fingers at the wrong people; these were nicely dressed white students who drove cars to the school. My daughter lives across the street from what is now former Howe High School and removed her daughter from the school for her physical safety to a charter school. The in-school violence was dangerous to the teachers who were thrown against walls and dodged even desks being thrown. The students vicious fights on the streets and into resident’s yards was not recognized as a problem by school police or the police force. My daughter could not let her children or grandchildren play safely in her own yard and to keep the problem students off of her property she chained her German Shepard to a tree with a chain long enough to keep the dog on her private property.

    Today, the old Thomas Carr Howe High School sits vacant; once one of the finest schools in this city; it occasionally rents out parts of the facility for special occasions. Last week there was a basketball game going on when a 19 year old young man was shot to death outside the school. While still a working high school it became another site for violence vs. education with teachers having no way to remain in charge of their classrooms and “school police” have no authority unless they see the reported violence. By the time they arrive, the problem students are usually gone and no action against them can be taken retroactively. Does the public education budget contain coverage for protection of staff from the students or the students from one another? Long gone are the days of “The Breakfast Club” high schools which provided detentions for such students. The wasted money for “school police” who are elsewhere when problems arise and violence continues during the wait for their appearance.

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul hasn’t worked and will not work; politics have taken over education as they have religion and have combined the two to be paid for out of the public education budgets. They are financially supporting future teaching Priests and Nuns to be teachers of our future leaders…if not becoming leaders themselves.


  5. The personal monetary gains made by Republican officials and their supporters/investors today pale in comparison to the long range goal of turning the working population of Indiana into uneducated dolts eager for the mindless jobs directed by AI… AI owned by the rich and powerful. Those jobs are already here, and growing, at warehouses, transportation hubs, computer controlled farm operations and the like. One need not be able to think, only act as instructed and not complain.
    The State of Indiana is being turned into a plantation for the stockpiling and distribution of consumer goods. And you do not need employees who have read Shakespeare for that.

  6. At the risk of being labeled ‘woke from Sleepy Hollow’ , the left side of the creek, 🤔… I must admit my career demanded accountability to evidence before making claims. Learning application of new technology to replicate desired results can be a good thing. All things considered, how we as a society nurture development of youth into well developed young adults, with abundant access to socially and economically desirable roles, somehow looses traction in the argument for efficacy of primary reliance on online virtual education.

    The evidence I turn to is:

    Of the 40 assets deemed from longitudinal research beneficial to transition from youth to young adult, in the best of circumstances for public school education, only eight of 40 are attributed to schools.

    If schools are certified that do not require collective attendance involving real time human connection, online virtual denies students learning that comes from interacting with teachers and peers engaging all five senses of human behavior.

    But being woke from Sleepy Hollow can be perceived as dangerous for others. Cheerios, yogurt and Sheila … god to be awake this morning.

  7. Would there be parents whose children are enrolled in these schools, who might be upset enough about the educational deficiencies that they would sue, as taxpayers, to recover the costs and perhaps get some punitive damages for the harm to their children? It’s all about the money, so hit them where it hurts, in the pocketbook. I’m guessing there are a few attorneys in Indiana who need a little pro bono time on their ledgers.

  8. I can’t find the reference now, but the Indiana Capital Chronicle also reported that another legislator has ties to a company that produces materials for home schooling and private schools. Yes, there is dark money here. Despicable. Parent choice has become a code word for funneling money to for-profit companies.

    Also, I believe (and this is an area of expertise for me) that comparing online and in-person instruction is asking the wrong question. There is superb online instruction and miserable in-person. It all depends on the quality of the instructional design and the needs of the learners.

  9. At Nancy C. … Point well taken. If you focus on lowest common denominator and manage accordingly, you get the results when you divert attention away from optimizing a path forward. However, your focus is on instruction versus development of the student where they are at as a whole human. Developing assets of youth character reaches far beyond integrity and measurement of curriculum instruction design.

  10. My husband taught in parochial schools for 30 years. He had seen what occurs in public schools and refused to consider teaching in public schools for more money because of three reasons: lack of discipline in public schools, too much administrative paperwork, and lack of parental involvement. What is a parent to do?

    I support public schools and do not want public funds spent on religious schools. I recognize that public schools have to accept the students who are trouble-makers while private schools can pick and choose if they so desire. But I would want good schools for MY CHILD, so where does that leave us?

    I do not appreciate the efforts of our state legislature to undermine public schools instead of supporting them. Innovative ideas are few and far between, for sure. I do think it’s all about the money and, to a certain extent, the existence of racism.

  11. Jan Two; your second paragraph says so much in a few words. The ability to discipline was taken from teachers here long ago and we lost many good teachers as far back as the 1970s. Two friends and one nephew left teaching altogether due to the inability to control their classes to be allowed to teach. Today; actual security needs to be provided in schools and on school grounds.

    I don’t know the answers to ending the violence, including sexual attacks on school grounds, but the answer is not more voucher students and charter schools which are not providing better education, with a heavier drain on public education budgets to help pay for their education. My ex-husband Earl Kennedy, a former commenter here, years ago suggested turning the City-County Building into a school and send all students to one location. I doubt it is big enough to hold the vast numbers today but the basic idea makes more sense than what is going on at this time in this country.

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