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Common link: College Board's Todd Huston

Looking for a common thread in that continuing series on Indiana's education-related emails outlined by Tom LoBianco of The Associated Press?

Look no further than Todd Huston, senior vice president at the College Board and a Republican state representative from Fishers. As chief of staff for former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, he appears to have served as the political wrangler and idea man for the Indiana Department of Education under the previous administration.

The latest round of emails described by LoBianco finds Huston in the fast company of GOP powerbrokers Al Hubbard, Mark Lubbers and Mark Miles. Decades younger than the others, Huston is none too reluctant to weigh in with his own thoughts. He was also the only one with a state email address subject to Indiana's open records law.

Huston outlines the strategy for pushing school vouchers, beginning by leveraging the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation and its ample resources.

"They will want to take the lead and I am not sure that is best path but they must play a huge role," Huston writes.

He also suggests bringing in "African-American leaders from New Orleans, Milwaukee and Washington DC (where they have had voucher efforts) to discuss how this benefits that community."

"We have to lead the media," Huston writes. "If we respond to the educrats, we will always be on the defensive. Instead, we should begin a strong communications effort focused on the major media markets. Our experience has been that the Indianapolis, South Bend, Evansville and Lake County papers really desire educational reform and those are the markets we have to win in. The rural and small town markets won't care and could even be persuaded that it might mean more money for them."

Fort Wayne's exclusion from that group was no accident, of course. Some of us in the media have been critical of their so-called "educational reform" from the start.

Huston laid out how his future legislative colleagues should be handled: "We don't need the politicians to lead (the voucher legislation) but we need them to support it. They should be providing affirmation of the effort but let's give (House Speaker Brian) Bosma and others the chance to respond to it and not lead it. It will put them on record as supporting the idea, which is critical."

He also proposes working with the archdiocese. During the voucher push, Bennett and Mitch Daniels personally went to the Indianapolis diocese to meet with Catholic school officials and sell them on the plan.

Huston's overall strategy worked, of course. The GOP-controlled legislature fell obediently into line; diocesan school officials were on board, the Friedman Foundation rallied its troops. Huston's time outlining strategy and meeting with the GOP heavyweights over scotch and steaks at Fleming's was a success.

In another email thread, the former DOE chief of staff touched off the disparaging conversation about Chuck Little, director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association. Huston passed along a message Little sent to IUSA members about a GOP Senate budget proposal.

"This is from the group getting a mountain full of stimulus money and their only comments about the Senate budget is how bad it is for them," Huston writes in an email sent to Tony Bennett, Mitch Daniels and state budget officials Christopher Ruhl and Ryan Kitchell. "Never, ever enough money for them. Unbelievable."

In another email exchange, we learn that Huston was the one to suggest the governor appoint Amos Brown, an outspoken African American Indianapolis radio show host and columnist to the Education Roundtable, as a way to silence a "loud mouth."

Huston wasn't a party to the email exchanges involving the Christel House grade inflation -- the incident that apparently cost Bennett his job as Florida's state education commissioner. By the time his former colleagues at DOE were recalculating schools' grades, Huston had left to rejoin Cisco Systems, Bennett's vendor of choice for high-tech equipment.

Huston now is with College Board, a key player in the Common Core State Standards. His work restructuring Indiana schools is now done from his seat on the House Education Committee, where he likely is keeping close watch on his email correspondence.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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