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Tony Bennett, the New Education Commissioner from Indiana, a Jeb Bush Devotee

December 11, 2012 - 6:00pm

Tony Bennett, the Indiana conservative who calls former Gov. Jeb Bush his inspiration, has been voted Florida's next commissioner of education.

The Florida State Board of Education selected Bennett on Wednesday over two other finalists they had interviewed Tuesday in Tampa.

Considered instrumental in raising the Hoosier State's graduation rate above 85 percent and implementing the Indiana Growth Model detailing the amount of progress each student has made, Republican Bennett was elected the state's superintendent of public schools in 2009 on his promise to increase student performance, reward great teachers, increase options for parents and strengthen school autonomy.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says Bennett has done all of the above.

We are excited that the State Board of Education chose Tony Bennett as Floridas new commissioner of education," Scott said. "Tony has a great record of achievement in Indiana and I am confident he will be a tireless advocate for Floridas students."

Bennett will relieve Pam Stewart, who has been the interim commissioner of education since Gerard Robinson abruptly stepped down in August after only a year on the job.

Bennett has made no secret of his admiration for Gov. Bush and has a story to tell:

He was new to the superintendent's office in Indiana and looking to make dramatic changes to his states schools. The biggest? Require third graders to pass a state reading test or get held back. Indianalawmakers balked.So Bennett, with fellow Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels on board, called in some help: Jeb Bush, the man who had pioneered the third-grade reading requirement a decade ago.

Jeb Bush has a big mind and a big heart for education reform, Bennett said. I believed in my heart that he had a great blueprint.

With that and Bennett's effort, Indiana made vast strides in a three-year time span.

The American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports voucher programs and charter schools, praised the selection of Bennett.

Tony Bennett will serve Floridas children and families well by continuing his work to implement high-quality and accountable school choice programs, Kevin P. Chavous, senior adviser for the American Federation for Children, stated in a release.

His record of putting Indianas children first will certainly continue in Florida, which is great news for families across the state.

In Indiana, Bennett advocated vouchers, enrolling 4,000 students in such programs last year, with the number topping 9,300 this year.

Scott remarked, I am committed to improving Floridas K-12 education system through continued support for education funding, teachers and students. My College and Career FIRST Agenda focuses on ensuring that Florida families get a quality education for their children to help them get a great job and pursue their dreams, and we are grateful for the leadership of Interim Commissioner Pam Stewart who helped shape this agenda."

The governor made it clear that the buck will stop with Bennett.

I am holding Tony accountable for driving the College and Career FIRST Agenda forward in support of Floridas students and teachers. I look forward to working with him on our goals to increase education funding and advocate for the professional development of Florida teachers, which is critical for student success.

I am honored and excited by the opportunity here, Bennett stated in a release. I look forward to getting out, visiting schools, and meeting with and listening to students, parents, teachers, and leaders in districts across the state as we work together to ensure that every student in Florida has the kind of world-class education that allows them to flourish.

Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, issued a cautious statement regarding Wednesdays State Board of Education hiring of Bennett as the new Florida education commissioner.

I respect the State Board of Educations authority to hire the education commissioner. I hope the choice the board made is the right one for Florida. Florida deserves an education commissioner who puts public schools and public school students first.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889; Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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