power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: Rep. Bob Behning

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 91, covering parts of Marion and Hendricks counties. So far, has served 25 years in the legislature. Formerly the owner of a local florist, Behning now is the director of external affairs for the educators college at the private Marian University.

What makes him a power player: Behning is easily recognized as one of the most high-profile choice-based education reform advocates in the Indiana General Assembly.

In his six years as chairman of the House Education Committee, he has helped push through many of the sweeping reforms that have allowed charter schools and the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher system to proliferate, making Indiana a leader in the nation.

A career cornerstone: In 2011, Behning authored the bill that established the state’s voucher program, one of a large collection of bills that included expanding charter schools and other reform measures supported by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and then-state superintendent Tony Bennett. The changes modified much of the state’s existing education policy, including teacher pay, testing and accountability. At the time, Behning was also a supporter of the now-controversial Common Core standards.

Since then, Behning has authored or supported legislation promoting early childhood education, charter schools, innovation schools and teachers evaluations. Recently, he has championed the bills that repealed, and now, could replace, the state’s ISTEP exam.

On school choice: Behning has held leadership positions with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative not-for-profit lobby group that pairs legislators and business owners together to write model legislation. ALEC’s education legislation tends to advocate for vouchers, charter schools and other methods of school choice. Because Behning has worked closely with ALEC, as well as other school reform groups, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Behning an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Behning has supported the new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, particularly because of her advocacy for increasing access to charter schools and vouchers.

Who supports him: Over the course of the past few elections, Behning has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; Students First, another pro-reform lobbying group created by former head of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee; Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Bennett’s campaign.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.

education power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: Rep. Tim Brown

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos and Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 41, covering parts of Montgomery, Boone, and Tippecanoe counties. So far, has served 23 years in the House of Representatives. Brown had a career as an emergency room doctor in Crawfordsville, retiring in 2015.

Why he’s a power player: Brown is chairman of the influential House Ways & Means Committee, one of the main budget-writing bodies in the Indiana General Assembly. In addition to helping craft the state budget, which includes money for schools, Brown’s committee also considers bills that could have a financial impact on the state. Any proposal involving money — including testing, school choice and preschool — has to pass muster with him. In recent years, Brown has supported funding increases for students with special needs and virtual charter schools.

Money follows the child: Brown has pushed for changes over the years to how Indiana funds schools, favoring plans aimed at equalizing the base funding allocated for students across districts. Historically, the state had padded the budgets of districts that were losing large numbers of students — helping them adjust but leading to disparities between schools across the state.

Brown finally achieved his goal of having the same basic aid for each district in 2015. Enrollment is now the driving factor in how much money schools get, as opposed to where they are located or what kinds of students attend.

On school choice: Brown served on the House Education Committee in 2011, the year the legislature passed a number of major education reform measures dealing with charter schools, teacher evaluation and vouchers. Since then, Brown has continued to support school choice options, working on bills about “education savings accounts” and other choice programs that would let students take individual classes outside their public schools.

Who supports him: Brown has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers.

Given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Brown an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year and where they were halfway through the session.

education power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: Sen. Luke Kenley

PHOTO: Sarah Glen
Sen. Luke Kenley

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 20, covering parts of Hamilton County. So far, has served 25 years in the state Senate. Kenley has spent parts of his career as both a lawyer and grocery store owner.

Why he’s a power player: Kenley is cost-conscious chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the main budget-writing bodies in the Indiana General Assembly. He has overseen many of the state’s school funding changes in the past several years, notably ones that removed local property taxes from school general funds. Kenley also leads Senate decisionmaking on what, how and where the state should spend money designated for schools. He has significant influence when it comes to setting aside money for other education proposals that aren’t in the funding formula, such as testing, preschool and programs for English-learners.

The unseen cost of change: Kenley balked in 2015 over an astronomically high testing budget proposed by then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and he introduced legislation that year to get rid of ISTEP altogether. That move kicked off a conversation that culminated in the test being scrapped after 2018. Perhaps ironically, Kenley had been one of several GOP leaders who advocated that Indiana abandon the Common Core Standards in 2014, which led the state to quickly overhaul ISTEP for 2015  — an expensive process.

The Senator from Noblesville has also long been skeptical about the practicality of making major investments in state-sponsored preschool and has held constant in that view since lawmakers considered then-Gov. Mike Pence’s preschool proposal in 2014.

On school choice: While Kenley has advocated for charter schools and the state’s voucher program, he has taken a harder stance than some of his fellow lawmakers on making sure those schools are held accountable for educating students before granting them more state dollars. He expressed concern over legislation that would give charter schools extra funding for buildings and transportation in 2015 and a bill that would let private voucher schools skip ISTEP testing in 2014.

His early years of public service: Kenley served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971.

Who supports him: In past elections, Kenley has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Kenley a “D” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.