Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is under fire for email showing he may have pushed for changes to Indiana's school grading system to benefit a donor's charter school.
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Questions are being raised over whether the former chief of Indiana’s schools worked to change one GOP donor’s charter school grade.
Tony Bennett says he did not feel political pressure to revamp Indiana's school grading system despite emails showing he and his staff scrambled to give Republican donor Christel DeHaan’s school an A on the state’s A-F school grading scale. The Associated Press reports that DeHaan has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans, including $130,000 to Bennett.
Emails obtained by the AP show Bennett's staff sought ways to give Christel House Academy a top grade last September. The effort came after 10th grade algebra scores would have resulted in an overall C grade for the academy.
'They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,' Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist, according to The Associated Press.
The emails did not reveal how the Indiana Department of Education may have changed the grading formula or how many schools were affected by the changed. However, the exchanges did show that Bennett and other IDOE administrators were focused on Christel House.
When asked by the AP whether the academy had received special treatment, both Bennett and DeHaan denied that was the case.
“There was not a secret about this,” Bennett told the AP. “'This wasn't just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid.”
Bennett was defeated in last November’s election by Democrat Glenda Ritz. After leaving office in Indiana, Bennett was appointed in December to be the Education Commissioner of Florida.