Two important takeaways from news that Robert Behning, chairman of the Indiana House Education Committee, started an education consulting company last year:
1. Some lawmakers are oblivious or downright arrogant when it comes to glaring conflicts of interest.
2. School reformers inevitably seem to have a financial interest in the measures they promote.
The Indianapolis Star reports that Behning, a driving force behind the school voucher law and other controversial education measures approved by the General Assembly, started Berkshire Education Strategies last June.
He asked for clearance from the House Ethics Commission to solicit clients on behalf of Questar, a Minnesota company with a $6.4â million con-tract for Indiana’s end-of-course assessments, but said Friday – after complaints surfaced – that he won’t pursue the plan.
Behning, a 12-term Republican from Indianapolis, formerly operated Berkshire Florists. He’s a favorite of education privatizers around the country, collecting thousands in campaign contributions from voucher and charter school supporters. Stand for Children, Christel DeHaan, K12 Management, Red Apple Development and Charter Schools USA are a few of his financial supporters.
The lawmaker pulled out a tired excuse in defending his actions.
"It’s a citizen legislature and you’re going to have conflicts, regardless," Behning told the Associated Press.
House Speaker Brian Bosma told the Star that he discouraged the education committee leader from seeking education clients but said he couldn’t tell lawmakers what to do with their private lives.
If Indiana voters are willing to accept that there’s no problem with a legislator seeking work from a company that has benefited from policies the legislator pushed, we all should be discouraged.