Wow. Florida Democrats are starting to call for Tony Bennett’s ouster. From Times-Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory:
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 Christen 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.
Bennett has obviously shown a willingness to tinker with school grades that benefit his agenda and allies. Consider this from Tom Lobianco’s Associated Press story:
…trouble loomed when Indiana’s then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.
“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”
By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a “C.”
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a “C” to an “A,” including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high “B” look like an “A” and changing the grade just for Christel House.
It’s not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan’s grade jumping twice.
Cruz has obviously read the emails and understands that Bennett’s Indiana manipulations make him unsuitable as the final arbiter of Florida’s school grades. Moreover, his willingness to make decisions on behalf of charter school operators who have donated to his campaign as he did with Christel House ends any speculation that he will be an honest broker on charter school issues. Scathing Purple Musings reported in December that Charter Schools USA – another donor to Bennett’s Indiana campaign – received $6 million more than it should have to run four Indiana schools.