Update 2:24 p.m.: Florida is looking for a new education commissioner. Tony Bennett resigned today – effective immediately – after just six months on the job.
Allegations surfaced this week that Bennett changed the school grading system in Indiana to benefit a campaign contributor while he served as that state's elected superintendent.
Bennett said the allegations were unfounded, but he decided to step down because they had become a distraction.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg says Bennett did the right thing.
“I commend Commissioner Bennett for realizing that he doesn't want to be a distraction for students and teachers and superintendents. Whether rightfully or wrongfully, I think Florida needs to make sure that we move forward.”
Public school chancellor Pam Stewart is expected to take over as interim commissioner while the state board of education looks for a permanent replacement. Stewart served as interim commissioner last year before Bennett took over.
Update at 1:27 p.m.: Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned his post Thursday following questions about his role in changing the state’s grading formula to boost the grade of an influential Indiana charter school while leading Hoosier State schools in 2012.
Bennett called the charges “malicious” and “unfounded,” but said he did not want to become a distraction in Florida. The Associated Press first published emails which showed Bennett and staff discussing how to make Christel House Academy an A-rated school.
“Every minute we spend defending the credibility of your commissioner because of what’s said 800 miles away,” Bennett said, “is a minute we waste that we should have been thinking about educating children in Florida.”
Bennett said the decision was “mine alone” and that Gov. Rick Scott offered his support.
Florida’s education commissioner is one of the most difficult jobs in the country. Former commissioner Eric Smith left his job in March 2011. His replacement, Gerard Robinson, was hired in August of that year and resigned 12 months later amid questions about errors in calculating school grades.
Bennett was to bring stability to the post, but now he’s out too.
“Florida is a dynamic, diverse state. It’s not an easy ship to steer,” said Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg. “But there are individuals out there who are up to that challenge.
“Anytime you have a change at the helm it’s always disappointing,” Legg said. “I believe it was probably the right move…he was becoming a distraction over policy.”
Bennett said he recommended Pam Stewart take over as interim commissioner. Stewart filled that role prior to Bennett’s hiring in December.
Bennett also defended two former Indiana staffers, Dale Chu and Will Krebs, involved with the grade discussion who moved with him to Florida.
“This department would do well if they stay and continue their work,” Bennett said.
Update at 11:48 a.m.: Tony Bennett resigned Thursday as Florida education commissioner following two days of controversy over school grades in his home state of Indiana.
He made the announcement at a news conference in Tallahassee late Thursday morning.
“The decision to resign is mine and mine alone, because I believe that when this discussion turns to an adult, we lose the discussion about making life better for children,” Bennett said.
Coming to Florida from the Hoosier state last January, Bennett had faced mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations, first reported by The Associated Press, that he interceded on behalf of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor. On Thursday, he called those reports “malicious and unfounded.”
Update at 11:02 a.m.: The Associated Press is also reporting that Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is expected to resign this morning. Bennett is under fire for changes he made to Indiana's school grading system while he was in charge there. The changes benefited a school founded by a campaign contributor. The announcement is expected at a press conference this morning.
Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is expected to announce his resignation Thursday amid a controversy over whether he improperly changed a school grade to benefit a political contributor while he was the head of Indiana's education system.