House speaker consults for virtual-school business

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston made headlines last year when he left his $460,000 job with the College Board after a controversy regarding legislation to restrict teaching about race. He’s now back in the news, with conflict-of-interest questions raised about his side gig as a consultant.

Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported last week that Huston is one of at least 15 legislators who report on their statements of economic interest that they serve as consultants, sometimes helping businesses that work with or are regulated by the state. Huston started his TMH Strategies Inc. about a month after he left the College Board and lists two clients: Stride Inc. and the tech company Spokenote.

Stride, formerly K12 Inc., is a for-profit provider of virtual education that reported revenue of nearly $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2022. It operates seven Indiana-based virtual public, charter and private schools as well as several private online schools that may enroll Hoosier students, according to its website.

Indiana virtual schools got a nice little gift in the Republican-drafted state budget bill that the House approved in February. In recent years, virtual schools have received 85% of the per-pupil state funding that goes to so-called “brick-and-mortar” schools. The House GOP budget bumps that to 100%.

As a result, virtual schools would see their per-pupil state funding increase by 15-20% next year compared to an increase of 5% or less for brick-and-mortar schools.

The rationale for giving virtual schools less money is that they don’t need to spend as much as other schools: They don’t have school buildings or buses, and they tend to have high student-to-teacher ratios. Also, they were under fire for poor test scores and the Indiana Virtual School financial scandal.

In fall 2022, there were over 10,000 students in Stride-operated Indiana public and charter schools. Almost 7,000 were in Indiana Digital Learning Schools, which Stride operates for Union School Corp. Another 2,600 were in Indiana Gateway Digital School, part of the Clarksville Community School Corp. Some 740 were in the Insight virtual charter school. There were just over 100 students in Stride’s three Indiana online private schools, which can get state funding via the state’s voucher program.

Shifting from 85% to 100% state funding for the schools would appear to mean a windfall of over $10 million, which Stride would share with the sponsoring school districts and Insight’s authorizer.

There are also about 7,000 students in virtual charter schools operated by other entities or by the schools themselves, according to House Republicans’ school funding projections.

Virtual schools serve a purpose. Some students struggle with classroom learning or simply learn better online. Presumably some have been suspended or expelled from their home schools and need an alternative to stay on track. Stride has been running virtual schools for a long time and has plenty of resources and experience. Its online offerings probably work for some students.

Also, Huston gets credit for disclosing his consulting clients. It’s not required, and some lawmakers don’t do it. Sen. Jeff Raatz, who chairs the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, said only that his consulting “primarily deals with insurance,” the Capital Chronicle reported.

Finally, conflicts of interest are common Indiana’s citizen legislature, where many lawmakers have careers or businesses that may want favors from state government. There are builders on the regulatory committees, educators on the education committees, lawyers on the justice committees, etc.

The argument is that lawmakers’ professional experience gives them expertise that results in better legislation. That may be true, but when legislators are also consultants, Hoosiers may reasonably wonder whom they’re representing: the public or their clients?


5 thoughts on “House speaker consults for virtual-school business

  1. Pingback: Virtual school funding increase benefits House Speaker's client - Indiana Capital Chronicle

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  3. Pingback: Virtual school funding increase benefits House speaker’s client - Daily Journal

  4. Pingback: Virtual School Funding Increase Benefits House Speaker’s Client –

  5. Pingback: Senate pares back voucher expansion | School Matters

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