Tony Bennett’s Florida Bid Pits Bush Versus Scott


Just off his defeat at the ballot box in a red state, Tony Bennett waited until the last second to throw his hat in the ring for Florida’s education commissioner post. Why it took so long is anyone’s guess and I won’t be speculating on that here. But Bennett’s entry into the picture will be a showdown between current governor Rick Scott and former governor Jeb Bush. Lets explore why.

Rick Scott completely bought into the school reform model that Bush and others were selling when he became governor. He walked the talk and showed Waiting for Superman to legislators during his transition. Controversial reform icon Michelle Rhee co-chaired his education transition team with Bush’s top operative Patricia Levesque. Three top charter school executives joined them in crafting a legislative plan that probable gave Bush a Chris Mathews-like thrill up his leg. But the Rick Scott who took office in January 2011 is not the Rick Scott who has been tarveling on Bush Way as governor for two years.

For starters, he’s been embarrassed a number of times. He signed the Rhee inspired SB736 at the Jacksonville KIPP charter school belonging to Gary Chartrand, who of all things now, is the chairman of the State Board of Education. A few short months later it was learned that Chartrand’s school received an F. The spring brought the FCAT Writes and school grades fiasco that unmasked the incompetence of the FDOE and highlighted the folly of using kid’s test scores  in such a sweeping manner. Meanwhile, over 20 school boards from across the state passed resolutions against high stakes tests.  All the while the last ed commish, one of Bush’s vaunted Chiefs for Change, Gerard Robinson, was proving not to be up to the job.

Amid the testing and school grade meltdowns, which fairly couldn’t be blamed on Robinson as they were Bush=driven initiatives – Robinson proved to be divisive and gaffe-prone. He sealed his own fate in a late speech to state school board members. In response to the state association looking to pass  its own resolution against high-stakes tests (it wasn’t certain at the time they would do so) Robinson essentially told the room full of elected board members that they would do as they’re told.

Perhaps Jeb Bush likes such bully pulpit rhetoric. He famously told StateImpact reporter John O’Connor earlier this year that he “didn’t care” about criticism. Make no mistake, Tony Bennett would be Gerard Robinson hyped up on meth. Bennett once compared Indiana’s education funding apparatus to the BP oil spill. His application will undergo more press scrutiny because as a candidate for elected office, he received donations from many of the same  corporations from which Florida already does business.

Does Scott want this sort of education commissioner? Does Florida need a bomb-thrower or an administrator? Bennett is certainly more of the former, but the recent collapse of Florida’s accountability system and continued dysfunction at the FDOE begs for the later. The policies of which Bennett advocated for are already in place here and policy-making is still done by Levesque and ALEC. He’d be reduced to Baghdad Bob status - a gig for which he is well suited.   And finally, does Scott want another Bush Chief for Change and someone more loyal to the Bush legacy and agenda than he would be to the schools and children of the state?

The political charade of this being a state board decision will fade away and everybody will know this is Scott’s call.  Scott was able to generate Eric Smith ouster in favor of Robinson. While Bush continues his corporate financed education tour all over the country, Scott has to govern. He doesn’t want any more drama from the FDOE that Bennett would surely provide.

So who will win the political battle? Can Scott survive the hit that would come if it becomes apparent that Bush still runs the place?

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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9 Responses to Tony Bennett’s Florida Bid Pits Bush Versus Scott

  1. The disrespect that Bennett communicates for educators is startling. (And, by the way, I am a parent, not a teacher.) Tomorrow Indiana’s state board of education, led by Bennett, will vote on REPA II, a set of rules that will deprofessionalize the teaching profession in Indiana–making it possible to become a certified teacher, and add specializations, by merely taking a written test, if you already have a B.A. with a 3.7 GPA. Since Bennett lost the election, REPA II has also been rewritten as a blatant power grab, shifting a number of oversight functions from the Indiana Department of Education (to be headed by the newly elected Glenda Ritz) to the governor-appointed State Board of Education. Last year I sat in an audience and heard Bennett address a group of teachers, telling them not to bother with questions about his reforms because “this train has left the station.” Florida, if you want a train wreck, hire Bennett.

  2. Chris says:

    I teach in Indiana and am so thrilled Bennett is gone. He was arrogant and worried more about his personal agenda than children. I have a friend at the IDOE. He and some other colleagues went to Bennett a few weeks before the election and told him they thought he might be in trouble, but did the pompous man listen? No. He told them them the election would not be a problem at all. Be smart Florida. Send him packing.

  3. Martha J Meyer says:

    REPA 2 just passed. The entire education system is now controlled by about a dozen GOP appointees by Daniels, now Pence. Indiana will now come to its knees. Teachers are fleeing the state in droves. Teacher education programs have lost half their enrollment in four years since Bennett took over. The State Board has real quality. He is a quote from the member from the South Bend area. Keep in mind, Indiana has a population of about 6.45 million, and about 2.5 million voted in this last election — all registered voters. Here is what this lady said about her vote as a State Board appointee.

    “There are 4 million people who did not vote who are registered and many more children we represent,” said state board member Jo Blacketor of South Bend. “Every minute we waste is hurting a child. That’s just how I feel.”

    Who taught this woman math? Who taught this woman basic Indiana history and government, including demographics? Florida, your system is already in tatters — all you need is Tony Bennett to completely wreck it. Indiana will be decades recovering from all this. Hopefully, your governor will grow a backbone and not let that happen, even as much as I would love for Bennett to be completely gone from this state. AND, I am not a teacher. Just a parent.

  4. Missy says:

    Our state is an embarrassment thanks to Bennett and his ‘ol buddy Mitch. After Bennett got his butt handed to him the way he deserved, Mitch Daniels actually came out and whined that the loss was due to “inappropriate teacher communication on a massive scale”. He had part of that right. The state spoke on a massive scale to say we are tired of being treated like crap and being embarrassed by men who think they are bigshots and political rockstars, but couldn’t be any further from either.

    If only Daniels had moved out of state too.

  5. Tom says:

    The article says: “Robinson essentially told the room full of elected board members that they would do as they’re told.”

    If this was the last straw for Robinson, and if Gov. Scott does not want more of the same, then FL needs to run Bennett’s application through the shredder!! If the quote above were written with a blank for the name, there is nobody associated with state government or education in Indiana who would hesitate to guess “Bennett” is the name that goes there!

    Bennett is one of the most pompous and arrogant politicians (Yes, he’s a politician, not a true educator) I have ever seen! As for the reason why he waited until the last second to put his application in, he was 100% certain he would win the election here in IN, and for a short time later was probably waiting to see of Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma would support a proposal to declare the school superintendent’s post an “appointed” position, negate the election, and re-instate Bennett. His late application to the Florida post reflects his REAL interest in all this – Tony Bennett is most interested in keeping Tony Bennett in a powerful position.

    If FL selects him to lead their schools, what they think now is a train wreck will look like massive carnage on much bigger scale!

  6. Indiana_kicked_Bennett_to_the_curb says:

    Tony Bennett treats teachers with disrespect and as opponents in the educational process. He is not a leader by any means. If he is appointed to the position, you may as well change the official name to Education Czar because that is how he rules. He has no interest in working with educators to do the best thing for children. His interests are in the charter school and business world because that’s where his money comes from.

  7. flbusbaby says:

    Florida people (and all our friends) ~ we ALL need to send this or a similar tweet to Gov. Scott between now and Monday evening. All Tony Bennett will bring to our public schools is more Jebucation!

    #NOTonyBennett @FLGovScott Say “NO” to hiring Tony Bennett for Ed Commish! No to HIGH stakes testing!!

    https://www.facebook.com/events/137218329762980/

  8. Indiana voted overwhelmingly to get Tony Bennett OUT. Glenda Ritz received more votes than our Republican governor-elect…about 100,000 more. It was a public who became engaged on the issues of education and Bennett’s attempt to blame teachers for everything. We saw great schools, teachers and children being labeled failures. We saw the money pouring into Bennett’s campaign coffers and the favors he returned by turning “failing” schools over to for-profit companies. I am a parent here in Indiana and I urge you all to be vocal in your opposition to Tony Bennett as your “ed commish”. He is a zealot, has no regard for public education, shows no compromising ability and has drunk a vat of Kool-aid from Bush, Rhee, and the like. The best defense is an offense— that surely applies here. Get your parents to write letters to the editor and to the powers that be.

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