Patricia Levesque, the woman who heads both of Jeb Bush’s foundations, set the tone for the defense of Tony Bennett when the grade fixing story broke Sunday night when she said “they fixed a problem to be accurate and fair — any accusation otherwise is false and politically motived.”
The world knows this now to be patently false. Bennett’s emails, a virtual paper trail, show that his main focus was on one school, Christel House Charter School, which happened to belong to the major donor to his campaign. Perhaps Levesque hadn’t seen the emails yet and was going on what she’d been told by Bennett’s people. I’d imagine Levesque was notified before Tony LoBianco’s investigative piece was published. Her first instinct was to protect the brand and accuse the story of being politically motivated. Never mind that her response was just that.
But what if she had seen the emails when she played the “political motivated” card? One might conclude she’s being delusional. She has after all, invested a lot into the school grade accountability movement. I don’t think for a minute that a savvy, experienced operator like Levesque does delusional. In her defense of Bennett, Levesque was essentially “raising the bar” for what both Bush foundations would do to protect one of their own.
Top policy advisor, Matt Ladner was taking a similar tact on Wednesday, and well after the emails were made public. He wrote this is Jay P. Greene’s Blog:
Odd that a few critically important details were left out of the AP story. Perhaps the reporter would like to come by and explain why 13 schools who lacked 11th and 12th grade students should have received zeroes for graduation rates and Advanced Placement work.
What if Tony had let those zeroes stand? Do you think for a moment that some of these same critics would have failed to howl at injustice of it all?
Sunshine State News published a list of the 12 other schools yesterday. I wonder if Ladner knows that 11 of the 12 were charter schools with the other being an online school. But Ladner posted a “Stay Calm Cause Haters Gonna Hate” on his post to which a fellow poster took exception. Ladner responded and then followed up this way:
I did not intend to lump you in with the “haters.” You explicitly said that you did not believe that Tony was corrupt. If you google the phrase “Indiana grading scandal” you will however find many examples of people who took this misleading story and ran with it.
There is no way that anyone in Tony’s position would have allowed these 13 schools to get knocked for a lack of 11th and 12th grade students. This story looks to have started with a fishing expedition request for emails and in lacking that critical context turned into a hatchet job.
On what basis are you saying that Tony tried to change the grade of just this one school if the grades of 13 schools in a similar situation changed?
None of the other schools were ever mentioned in the Bennett emails – just Christel House – and Bennett never expressed any concern for them. Both Bush Foundations were still shooting the messenger up until yesterday when an FEE Tweet referencing a past success during Bennett’s Indiana tenure with “ironic someone at INDOE had time to put these emails together, but didn’t have time to tell this story.”
Perhaps a Bennett supporter, Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully, has the most effective response for the Bush Foundation’s talking heads:
Now that the AP story is out, I certainly hope none of my fellow supporters of education reform try to dismiss and defend Bennett’s words and actions. I stand by my support of his policies, and his belief in charters and high standards. But his words and actions in this case are at best troublesome, disheartening and far beneath the office he held.
Still, this was not likely about campaign money, as some have suggested. Bennett had many problems, but raising money was not one of them. He was a beloved national figure in the eyes of many and money flowed to his campaigns with ease from reformers and Republicans. He raised much more than Ritz in 2012 and could have raised more.
This was about bluster, about the need to be right
Bennett and the Bush Foundation clearly want to make this about how the emails were “leaked” and not about the grade fix that occurred. A still blustery Bennett called the episode yesterday “politically motivated, unfounded and malicious,” and has already formally asked for an investigation. If Bush’s Foundations continue their current position, they indicate support for Bennett’s ends justifies the means grade fix, and that manipulating the very accountability system they champion is ok if it helps their own “need to be right.”
UPDATE: Tully offers follow-up points.