Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigns from his position during a Thursday press conference in Tallahassee.
AP Photo/Steve Cannon
(Tallahassee, Fla.) – The Florida education commissioner who was the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction until last year has resigned from his post in the sunshine state.
Tony Bennett has been the target of much criticism this week, which culminated with his Thursday resignation during a press conference in Tallahassee. An Associated Press report published Monday showed that he emailed Indiana Department of Education staffers last September, plotting to get a Republican Party donor’s Indianapolis charter school assessment grade changed from a C to an A.
“Every minute we spend defending the credibility of your commissioner because of what’s said 800 miles away is a minute we waste that we should have been thinking about educating children in Florida,” Bennett said, adding he resigned despite a request from Governor Rick Scott that he stay on the job
Bennett may have resigned, but did not admit to any wrongdoing. In his announcement, he asked the Indiana Inspector General to investigate the Indiana Department of Education's actions during his tenure.
“That way we can put this issue to rest, because frankly, I am fearless about what they will find,” said Bennett.
In the wake of the news report and Bennett’s resignation, Indiana Governor Mike Pence says he stands beside Indiana’s A through F school grading system, but is seeking a thorough and timely review by the Indiana Department of Education. Pence wants the department’s findings presented to the Indiana Board of Education later this month.
“Governor Pence believes in accountability and that students, parents and teachers deserve to know our state has a fair and impartial grading system that accurately describes the performances of our schools,” said governor’s office spokeswoman Kara Brooks. “The Governor supports our A-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system.”
Two of the biggest critics of the grading system that Bennett and former Governor Mitch Daniels championed had plenty to say about the scandal Thursday. Both the Indiana State Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers Indiana chapter want the school assessment system put on hold.
The teachers association called for a truly independent investigation into the administration of Indiana’s accountability system with a goal of making changes determined by education experts.
"It's now time to move beyond politics and narrow agendas," said Teresa Meredith, ISTA president, "and work to support Indiana's children and their schools."
The director of the Indiana charter school which the assessment scandal has centered around, Christel House Academy, says he was unaware the school's grade was changed.
“We want our school to be judged fairly and have the same calculation applied to us as is applied to any other school in our situation. We welcome a review,” said Carey Dahncke.
The school’s founder, Christel DeHaan, is a prominent Republican donor and has given party members $2.8 million since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett. DeHaan told the Associated Press on Thursday that no one associated with the school spoke with Tony Bennett about the school's grade while Bennett served as Indiana's school's chief.
Bennett became Florida's education commissioner following his Indiana November 2012 election defeat by current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.