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.
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.