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Bennett resigns as Florida education chief after emails reveal grade fix

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Florida's education commissioner resigned Thursday amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief.

Tony Bennett announced his immediate resignation at a news conference, saying that he while he did nothing wrong he didn't want to be a distraction to Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul Florida's education system. Emails published by The Associated Press this week show that 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.

Bennett called that interpretation "malicious and unfounded" and said he would call for Indiana's inspector general to look into the allegations because he is certain he will be cleared of wrongdoing.

He said it would be unfair to Scott "to have to spend my time and the State Board (of Education's) time, as things continue to trickle out, defending myself." He called the allegations "politically motivated."

Bennett lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana. He was hired by Florida as its education commissioner, a nonelected post, in December.

Scott, at an appearance in South Florida, said he had not fired Bennett or demanded his resignation.

"He let me know that he was going to resign. It was his decision," Scott said at a charity event in Delray Beach. "Tony did a good job here. ... We're doing well in education." Scott refused to answer questions about the accusations against Bennett in Indiana. Bennett is the third education commissioner to leave office since Scott became governor in January 2011.

Indiana uses A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere.

After Bennett learned about a likely low grade for Christel House, he fired off an email last Sept. 12 to his chief of staff.

"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote. "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."

Bennett, who had been reworking Florida's grading system as the state's education commissioner, denied that DeHaan's Christel House Academy school received special treatment. He said earlier this week that discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other "combined" schools — those that included multiple grade levels — across the state.

The revelations that Bennett and Indiana officials scrambled to change the grade of one school come amid a strong debate over Florida's grading system.

Bennett earlier this month pushed the Florida board that oversees education policy to adopt a "safety net" provision that prevented the grades of more than 500 schools from dropping more than one grade this year.

That provision was adopted by a 4-3 vote amid much debate and criticism that the move would "mask" the true performance of schools. Bennett's plan was even opposed by the education foundation set up by Bush. The grades released last week still showed a sharp drop in the number of A-rated schools and a jump in the number of F-rated ones.

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  • Plenty more where this came from
    Tony, TAKE RESPNSIBILITY ! be ACCOUNTABLE ! remember ... ACCOUNTABLE. MITCH... help poor Tony to remember this word ACCOUNTABLE !
  • Seems to be a pattern
    First Charlie white, then Mitch Daniels, now tony Bennett, don't forget that guy Mourdock, then we have Land bank in Indy, can't wait for something to get the corrupt and clueless mayor of Indy and Carmel... It won't be long!!!
  • Arlington High School
    So does IPS get Arlington HS back? It was taken away because of bad middle school test scores that WERE NOT changed to A's. Read the EMAILS: http://goo.gl/Rw9qZs IPS needs to sue BIG-TIME. Only the Black and poor Whites schools got screwed over here, the RICH white backed schools all got their bad grades changed to A's. I HATE double standards!
  • Its Been Going on Forever
    Hey ya'll, this has been going on since before the Greeks, nothing new. I'm just always glad when one of them gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar. If you think it's only Republicans, then you have been paying much attention over the years!!
  • It was his fault
    Her school received a bad grade because 10th graders did poorly in algebra? Most of the kids in state did poorly! It was Mr. Bennett who pushed through his "tougher" standards that caused so many to fail. I have no problem with raising the standards in Indiana to be in line with the rest of the country but what I do have a problem with is how they chose to implement those changes. You can't change the curriculum on a kid once they reach high school when you haven't laid the basic ground work to support the higher standards. So Mr. Bennett again ALL of this is your fault, be a big man and accept it.
  • Stuff Under Rocks
    Right on. The inflated property tax appraisals must be investigated. Mine was $100,000 over value as per comps, but the Wash. Twnshp. Auditor's office is 5 years behind on appeals.
  • Let me guess
    Let me guess, Mitch knew nothing of this. Money is money, right Mitch Here is a famous quote from Daniels and his team. “We already spent the money that was donated by Timothy Durham and we are not going to pay it back”. LOTS and LOTS of bad things happened under Mitch’s watch from this to the taking too much in taxes to poor operating state unemployment department (workforce development) and much, MUCH more. But yet he is a hero to most. As I said before - this is classic small man disease and it’s all catching up to him. Stay tuned!
    • More stuff under rocks
      You got what you voted for: dishonesty, lack openness, decimation of public education, not to mention inaccurate appraisals, over-funding of taxes and looney-tunes state audits, oh, and Charlie White.
    • what is next?
      I assume that Tony will join the staff at PU with his boss Mitch. The truth will come out to show that our past gov has a few more stories, For those who kiss Mitch's ring, and continue to relish in his misdirections and lies- how do you defend him now?
    • what about Christel DeHaan?
      What has this done to her reputation?
    • Speaking of the Mayor...
      Hey, how 'bout that brilliant water company deal! I did not vote to reelect him - so disappointed in him. He quickly turned into quite the political insider.
    • Hurrah
      Too long in coming for Indiana education, but well deserved for Tony. Wonder who will hire him now?
    • Next Election
      Keep in mind that in the latest election Bennett got whipped soundly, Pence barely won, and Ballard squeaked by a very weak Dem candidate. Republican party needs to clean house and start over or I won't have anyone to vote for.
    • censoring ideas
      Oh I understand the facts VERY well Joe. (including the censorship facts-I've even READ the book!) It really is amazing, and I find it kind of sad that you aren't condemning this boneheaded "grade-changing" act like everyone else! Quit being a partisan cheerleader. Indiana education depends on it.
    • Corruption
      Here we have yet another story about a person in a high position who has no understanding of "right and wrong". Maybe Tony's definition of "right" is "whatever is good for me is right", or maybe it is "whatever the wealthy want is right." Whether the person is a public official or an executive of a private company, "anything goes" seems to be the battle cry of the day. "Money" & "special interests" rule the day. Our public and private leaders have lost their way, and I'm disgusted by it. There has always been corruption, but today, it seems like it is much more widespread and acceptable than ever before. A recent survey showed only two types of behavior as "wrong", murder & rape. All other behavior was either "right" or else it fell into the category of "acceptable under the circumstances". I'm sure Tony falls in with the majority who filled out the survey.
    • AP Watchdogs
      Now if we could get the AP to devote as much attention to our national leaders "inaction / scandles", the IRS "phony scandle", and the unsolved Benghazi "murders". But at least they busted an education bureacrat....
    • Marion & Cook Counties
      Marion County Republicans = Cook County Democrats; this from a R. Does anyone know if Greg Zoeller has integrity, or is he part of The Club? Sick of the IN Rs on gays, pot, and their social agenda.
    • Baxter King
      Wishfull thinking - your censorship comment shows you don't understand the facts
      • All About Accountability
        The A-F system was sophomoric and put educators on the same plane as students. Bennett has done irreparable damage to students in IN. FL just got lucky that he was exposed as a fraud. Our voters are smarter than our politicians.
      • GOP FAIL.
        Current AND Former Indiana Republicans are proving to be somewhat of an embarrassment. Bennett cheating to make his GOP pals look good...Mitch Daniels and soon to be former Gov. Pence are both getting into the censorship business. Not a great time for Conservatives in Indiana. Maybe they can find some homosexuals to demonize. Might ease some pressure on them.
      • Reason for having free press
        This is why it is so important to have media who look into allegations like this. Watchdogs are needed to look beyond the superficial headlines and into the real story. Bravo to AP!
        • Right and Wrong
          While I agree that public education either needs to be improved greatly or done away with, one of the basic tenants of education is to learn the difference between right and wrong. Mr. Bennett must have been absent that day, or perhaps his parents forgot to teach him that. Whether or not Ms. DeHaan applied the pressure,or the presense of her money led Mr. Bennett to infer that the pressure was there is not important. What is important is that money influences politics regardless of whether it is direct or implied pressure. Those of you who believe that we still live in a representative democracy rather than aristocracy should rethink your position.
        • Florida no more.
          Hmmm...Bennett is the second politico to leave Indiana for Florida in recent years and not stay very long. The Indiana DOC Chief Bill Buss was first and took most of his Indiana staff with him. http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-prisons-chief-packs-staff-with-indiana-hires/1187475 Guess the bar is set a little higher ethically than we thought.

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