Tony Bennett will announce today that he intends to resign as Florida’s education commissioner, per the Tampa Bay Times and the Associated Press. This follows a series of stories about steps Bennett took while Indiana’s K-12 chief last year to boost the grade of a charter school run by a political donor by tweaking the state’s A-F accountability system.
UPDATE: In a press conference today, Bennett called allegations of wrongdoing based on those stories “malicious” and “unfounded,” but said he had decided to resign to eliminate distractions for Florida education and political leaders. He also said he would ask Indiana’s Inspector General to investigate the grade-changing situation in Indiana and was “fearless” about the results of such an investigation.
“It’s not fair to the children of Florida that I continue as commissioner and deal with the distractions,” Bennett said.
He announced that Pam Stewart will serve as the interim education commissioner. Stewart, currently the chancellor of public schools at the Florida education department, had previously served as commissioner between the resignation of former commissioner Gerard Robinson last year and Bennett’s appointment. The next permanent Florida education commissioner will be the fourth to serve Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. Bennett said at his press conference today that Scott, a Republican, told him that he should stay despite the news.
Bennett took over Florida’s top education job in January, after being defeated by Democrat Glenda Ritz in the Indiana election. He has close ties with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, who wields considerable influence in Florida education policy through two K-12 advocacy groups. Bennett has been considered one of the most visible (and controversial) education officials in the country due to his aggressive approach and focus on school choice, school accountability, and teacher evaluations. Bennett is also an influential member of the group Chiefs for Change, also affiliated with Bush. Bennett said that Bush had also asked him to stay on after the news from Indiana broke.
On July 31, Scott said that Bennett had been doing a “great job” overseeing public schools in Florida. Perhaps ironically, Bennett had approved a significant relaxation to Florida’s own A-F accountability system last month that will prevent school grades from dropping precipitously over the next two years.
In a July 30 conference call, Bennett denied any wrongdoing, stating that he had merely attempted to eliminate unfair penalties to the Indianapolis charter school, Christel House Academy, as well as other schools. He called the charges of misconduct “absurd”.
Almost exactly one year ago, on July 31, 2012, Gerard Robinson announced his resignation from the post after roughly a year on the job. Bennett lasted approximately seven months.
Upon hearing the news, Michael Petrilli, a senior vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington who had defended Bennett’s actions regarding Indiana’s A-F system in a July 30 blog post, tweeted:
@PoliticsK12 @afhyslop He’s resigning. Freakin tragedy
— Michael Petrilli (@MichaelPetrilli) August 1, 2013
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.