Dems: Education Commissioner Bennett must go
Two Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called for the resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, saying the school grades scandal in Indiana had called Bennett's integrity into question.
"It’s time for [Gov. Rick Scott] to accept another resignation," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "I don’t care how he does it. He needs to basically wipe the chalkboard clean and start again."
Bennett found himself at the center of a media storm on Monday, when the Associated Press reported that he had changed the school grading formula in Indiana last year to benefit a charter school. The school, Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, is run by influential Republican donor Christel DeHaan.
Bennett took over as Florida's top education official in January.
Bennett has said politics played no role in the decision to change the formula in Indiana. He wanted the formula tweaked, he said, because it unfairly penalized schools like Christel House that weren't traditional elementary, middle or high schools.
Christel House, Bennett explained, enrolled children in kindergarten through 10th grade. In the initial calculation, the school was docked points for not having a graduation rate or strong enrollment in college-level classes. In the revised calculation, he said, Christel House was treated like a K-8 center.
Some Florida lawmakers, however, are not convinced.
State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said Bennett had engaged in "pay-to-play tacticts." She called for a review of the school grades in Florida, which were released Friday and showed a dramatic increase in the number of failing schools.
"How can we trust Florida school grades with Bennett in charge?" Cruz asked.
Pafford added that Bennett's meddling in Indiana was further evidence of Florida's pro-charter-school agenda.
Gov. Rick Scott made his first public comments about Bennett on Wednesday during an early news conference in West Palm Beach. The governor said Bennett was "doing a great job," but did not address the AP report or Bennett's future.
"He is very focused on accountability," Scott said of the education commissioner. "He is very focused on making sure we have the number one school system in the country."
The remarks were nearly identical to a press statement released late Tuesday by Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers.