Tony Bennett resigns as head of Florida schools

Tony Bennett
Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett announced his resignation Thursday over allegations he changed a charter school's grade during his previous job as Indiana's school chief.

Bennett's announcement Thursday came three days after The Associated Press revealed he had changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief.

See Bennett's resignation letter here.

He again denied wrongdoing but said he didn't want to be a distraction to Florida Governor Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul the state's education system.

Emails published by the AP this week show Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan's school received an "A," despite poor 10th grade algebra scores that initially earned it a "C."
IPS not given same flexibility
A report by Eyewitness News partner The Indianapolis Star says Bennett declined to give two Indianapolis schools taken over by the state in 2011 the same flexibility to improve their grades he later granted to Christel House Academy.

The Indianapolis Public Schools' then-superintendent Eugene White accused the state education department of "discrimination" before it took over Arlington and Howe high schools following six consecutive years of "F'' ratings.

White argued the schools had made sufficient gains in Grades 9-12 to earn at least a "D'' if the scores of middle school students weren't considered. Bennett denied the request. 

Bennett lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana. He was hired by Florida in December.
Gov. Scott defends Bennett

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is defending Bennett, saying he did a good job.

Scott's statement to reporters in South Florida came at the same time as a news conference in Tallahassee where Education Commissioner Tony Bennett announced his resignation.

Scott said that he did not fire Bennett and that he resigned on his own. Florida State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand issued this statement:

"Tony demonstrated great leadership transitioning Florida to new state standards – and he worked tirelessly during his tenure to provide students and teachers with the tools they needed to succeed. I thank him for his hard work and the support that he and Governor Scott have provided to educators and students across the state. In order to continue the success that Tony facilitated, it is my intention to convene a State Board of Education call tomorrow to recommend that the board appoint our K-12 Chancellor Pam Stewart as Interim Commissioner."

Scott, meantime, refused to answer questions about the accusations against Bennett in Indiana. Scott repeated only that he was pleased with Bennett's work in Florida.

About the emails

Emails sent by Tony Bennett and his staff show how they discussed raising the grades of Christel DeHaan's Christel House Academy despite poor test scores.

It is a stinging accusation: changing a grade to save face and accommodate a major Republican party donor. Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett authored an email on September 13th after learning that the Christel House Academy was not meeting his expectations.

"If you can't tell, I am more than a little miffed about this. I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months," said Bennett in an email.

The problem, as outlined earlier in the same memo, was that Superintendent Bennett had repeatedly held the Christel House Academy up as an A school but test results revealed it was actually doing C work.

"They need to understand" Superintendent Bennett wrote, "that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work. We may well lose [Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike] Pence on this as well."

Read the emails here.

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