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

Sen. Luke Kenley
Sen. Luke Kenley
Sarah Glen

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.

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