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Follow the Money: The charter school bill and the Mike Hubbard indictment

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - "When a legislative body starts to make dramatic policy changes," WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown implores, "Follow the money."

The questions about the charter school legislation working its way through Alabama are easy. Brown says you're just looking for, "Who wins. Who loses."

The answers are not as simple, though.  For starters, the bill calls for non-profits to run charter schools. So how does money factor in?

Well, the bill also allows those non-profits to sign contracts, so taxpayer money can flow through charter schools and their students to corporations. One big business right now -- distance or virtual education.

The original charter bill text even specifically recognized virtual education as a possibility for charter schools. The current bill lists a bunch of other approaches. However, Brown points out, "They said, but it's not limited to these."

If the bill passes, distance learning companies would have a whole new market of charter schools to sell their goods.

What does all this have to do with the indictment of Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard? In short, the indictment alleges Hubbard took money from a distance learning company.

Three exhibits from the state's massive data dump in the case highlight the storyline.

First, in Exhibit 43, we see Hubbard claiming desperate financial need. You see this all throughout the exhibits, but in an email dated September 6, 2011, he specifically says, "As we discussed, I am striving to be the best speaker in the United states. Perhaps I might need to scale back and be a slightly better than mediocre speaker in order to devote more time to supporting my family.(sic)!"

Second, in Exhibit 32, Hubbard shows up on the payroll of a distance learning company in early 2012 as a consultant. A leader at Edgenuity refers to a $7,500 a month financial commitment to Hubbard.

Even by political standards, it stands out. Brown notes, "That's far more money than just a typical campaign contribution."

Third, in Exhibit 58, we see Hubbard committed to charter schools. Former Governor Bob Riley says to Hubbard in an email on June 28, 2012, "Heard our gov (sic) just nixed charter schools." Hubbard replies, "I am not going to quit on charter schools. I don't know why Bentley says stuff like that."

The state submitted nearly a hundred exhibits boiling down to 23 charges against Hubbard. Count Ten focuses on the money he took from Edgenuity.

Brown explains, "A consulting contract would be the kind of thing that would be providing him with personal financial gain."

Of course, we can't know for certain what's behind the big push for charter school legislation this year, and there are probably a million forces at work here. But we do know that in a time where Mike Hubbard claimed to be in dire financial straits, court documents reveal a distance learning company showed up and paid him $7,500 a month for consulting.

Brown summarizes, "That's about $250 a day, each day of each month. I think for the average Alabamian, that's a pretty good chunk of change. And I think human nature says that much money would influence my behavior."

WHNT News 19 reached out to Speaker Hubbard's office on Tuesday to ask if the relationship with Edgenuity would impact how the speaker dealt with charter school legislation.  We did not hear back by the 3 p.m. deadline we set.