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Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to step down today

By on August 1, 2013
Tony Bennett

Embattled education commissioner Tony Bennett has resigned notified Governor Rick Scott he intends to resign, according to a source close to the state board of education (the Tampa Bay Times‘ Steve Bousquet is now also reporting that Bennett will resign).

Bennett said the “decision is mine and mine only.”

Bennett said he resigned “because I don’t believe it would be fair to be distracted” by what he characterized as “malicious and unfounded” reports.

Just yesterday, Gov. Scott told Channel 5 in West Palm Beach that Bennett is “doing a great job.

The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout tweets that when asked earlier this morning about resigning, Bennett said, “no decisions had been made” about resigning.

Bennett has been the center of controversy since the Associated Press reported that school grades in Indiana, where he previously worked, had been changed to benefit a political donor.

The AP reported Monday that Bennett and his Indiana employees “frantically overhauled” the Hoosier State’s school-grading system last year when it looked like one of his political contributors’ schools might get a “C.” But in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Bennett said it was “absurd” to believe he inflated grades to help Christel DeHann because of her political contributions to Bennett.

Instead, Bennett said, the Christel House school’s grade raised legitimate concerns about the grading system in Indiana, which was a new way of ranking schools for the state in 2012. While the AP reported that the emails it obtained pointed to algebra results as part of the problem, Bennett said education officials figured out it was largely because Christel House’s high school and 12 others hadn’t yet added an 11th- or 12th-grade.

The rule governing grades in Indiana, though, required graduation rates to be included in high school grades.

This latest controversy comes weeks after Bennett recommended keeping schools in Florida from dropping more than one letter grade on report cards issued this month, a continuation of a policy passed by the state board last year, before Bennett was on the job. Several local superintendents asked for that policy to be continued in 2013.

According to the AP report, Bennett received $130,000 in contributions from Christel, who gave $2.8 million to Republicans over the last 15 years. The superintendent of public education is elected in Indiana, unlike Florida’s system of having the commissioner appointed by the State Board of Education; Bennett lost his re-election bid in 2012.

Material from Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

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