Since Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s defeat to Glenda Ritz on Nov. 6, both my colleague Sean Cavanagh and I have reported speculation that Bennett could be a top candidate for education commissioner in Florida, where a full-time vacancy opened up following the resignation of Gerard Robinson earlier this year.
Now, with a hat tip to Scott Elliott at the Indianapolis Star, we can pass along that Bennett himself has confirmed his interest in the job. In a Dec. 3 blog post, Elliott quotes a statement from Bennett on his plans: “After careful consideration, I have decided to submit an application for Florida’s Commissioner of Education position. The Sunshine State’s consistent commitment to providing all students a top-notch education is impressive and inspiring. I look forward to participating in the next stages of this process.”
About 50 other people have applied for the Florida job, the Associated Press reported, but none of them have held an equivalent state-level position. Some of them have been superintendents in other states.
The reasons that Bennett would fit in Florida are obvious. He’s an aggressive education “reformer” who would be welcomed by those in the state looking to push the boundaries of Florida education policy. From a political and interpersonal perspective, he’s also the chairman of Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is based in Tallahassee, Fla. and is run by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has a longstanding legacy and influence in Florida education policy. The ability for Bush and Bennett to work in tandem in a large state which has a history of big K-12 policy shifts in recent years may be too much to resist for state officials, although remember that the state Board of Education appoints the state superintendent.
But because of his hard-charging style, Bennett, a Republican, would also be a controversial pick. And some in Florida could question why someone who was rejected after one term by the Indiana voters is good enough for their state. Such an appointment could also further imperil any attempts by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to make political and policy progress with, or at least reach detente with, the state teachers’ union and others who would be suspicious of the work Bennett has done with respect to vouchers and state-directed school takeovers in Indiana. Remember, Scott voiced concern this past summer about not having “too much testing” in Florida education. Would the selection of Bennett put the kibosh on such sentiments? Ritz, after all, campaigned in part on what she called Bennett’s obsession with standardized exams, and one theory holds that it contributed to his Nov. 6 defeat.
UPDATE: Florida has officially received Bennett’s application, and you can read his cover letter and resume here. He writes that Florida “was the leader in starting this movement of making decisions based solely on kids, and I would like to take Florida to the next level.” He also says that he holds “everyone accountable ... It’s why I keep a scoreboard in my office.” (Bennett was once a high school basketball coach. Would he be able to beat President Barack Obama one-on-one or in a game of H-O-R-S-E?)
Photo: Tony Bennett is interviewed by members of the Florida State Board of Education on Tuesday, Dec. 11, in Tampa, Fla. Bennett is a finalist for the Florida Commissioner of Education. (Chris O’Meara/AP)
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.