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Under Governor Rick Scott, Florida’s education system has undergone a massive overhaul the last few years. Part of the overhaul included severe accountability rules with school report cards based on students’ high stakes test scores. Part of the reform included hiring State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to enforce the new grading rules. But last week, scandal caught up to Bennett when it was revealed that while he was Indiana’s school chief, he intervened in that state’s accountability system, to make it more favorable towards a charter school run by a major Republican donor.
Bennett became Florida’s Commissioner last year after the sudden resignation of the last Commissioner, Gerard Robinson. He has already faced difficult relationships with superintendents around the state, who have insisted that more fair and authentic measures be instituted to keep schools from being crushed under the new accountability system. In addition, Florida’s current accountability system makes it very difficult for the state to institute the new Common Core Standards (hotly resisted by the state’s Tea Party members). It was amidst all of these conflicts that the news emerged about Bennett’s history in Indiana.
Bennett insists that did nothing wrong in Indiana and that he has resigned so he would not be a “distraction” to the education business of the state. Education leaders around the state hope to focus on fixing the system itself, rather than on a personality that may take over the top position.