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 Recently, he has championed the bills that repealed, and now, could replace, the state’s ISTEP exam.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:
- Junking Indiana’s ISTEP test: What might come next and at what cost?
- Lawmaker who called for ISTEP test’s death now calling to extend its life
- Top Indiana lawmaker suggests big education changes should start with small steps
- Two preschool proposals are on the table, and one has already faced criticism for adding a pathway to vouchers
- Indiana could see a push to stash state money in school choice ‘savings accounts’
- The broken promise of Indiana’s online schools
- Low participation and poor attendance could get a student expelled from an online school in new House proposal
- Key legislative education leader fighting for his political survival
Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.