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Tony Bennett Officially Resigns as Commissioner of Education

July 31, 2013 - 6:00pm

Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett officially resigned his position Thursday morning after three days of reports surfaced that he changed grades for a charter school run by a big-time Republican donor in his home state of Indiana.

I dont think anything should distract us from that plan, said Bennett when talking about Floridas education plan. Bennett said he believes Florida should not be distracted by the malicious and unfounded reports from the media.

Then he broke the news.

Most of all, its not fair to the children of Florida that I continue as commissioner.

He said he made his decision alone.

The decision to resign is mine and mine only, said Bennett. So I asked Governor Scott to accept my resignation, and he did.

He said he will ask the inspector general in Indiana to investigate the case because "I am fearless what they will find."

Bennett said that he ended his tenure with his head held high and that great things are in store for Florida and Florida education.

Bennett arrived on the scene last January and has worked with the governor and legislators to overhaul Floridas education system to prepare it for the new Common Core State Standards, which are expected to be fully implemented in Florida by the 2014-2015 school year.

A report from the Associated Press released this week revealed an email exchange with Bennett prompting suspicions that the grade change for the Indiana Charter School, Christel House, was done out of political influence.

Bennett has denied such allegations from the start and fully admitted the grade for Christel House was changed. He maintained that he did nothing wrong at a press conference on Thursday, and said he believed that he did the right thing for Indiana and its students.

"There was not a secret about this," he said. "This wasn't just to give Christel House an 'A.' It was to make sure the system was right, to make sure the system was face-valid."

The history of Indianas school grades is one that closely echoes Floridas, with calls for increased transparency and accountability at all levels of public education. Indiana has an 'A' to 'F' grading system just like Florida, but it was not until 2012 that schools in the Hoosier State began receiving letter grades to gauge student performance.

A major flaw in the grading formula was found after Christel House, a historically high-performing school, received a C instead of an A. Bennetts camp blamed the fact that Christel House and several other charter schools did not have the 11th- or the 12th-grade, causing them to receive zeros in areas like graduation rates and college acceleration. AP reported that bad algebra scores were to blame for Christel Houses letter grade decline.

Christel House was founded by Republican Donor Christel DeHaan, who has contributed over $2 million to the Republican Party over the past 15 years, including $130,000 to Bennett himself.

Democrats called for Bennetts head on Wednesday, writing letters to Gov. Rick Scott calling for his immediate resignation.

Certainly, big money is also no stranger to education in Florida and I fear what appears to have happened in Indiana may repeat itself here, should Commissioner Bennett be allowed to remain at the helm, wrote Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, in a letter to the governor.

Scott still had positive words for Bennett on Wednesday and said he was doing a great job as commissioner, but remained silent on Bennetts future as head of the Department of Education.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush weighed in on Tony Bennett's accomplishments after Bennett resigned from his position as the commissioner of education on Thursday, giving him high praise for his work on the education system in Indiana.

Tony started every day with the focus of creating a system that would equip kids to achieve their God-given potential, said Jeb Bush, who served as governor of Florida from 1999-2007. Today, more Hoosier kids are graduating high school ready for college or a career, fewer are dropping out. Last year, the parents of nearly 10,000 children in low-income homes were able to select the school that best fit their son or daughter. Leadership is doing what is right, knowing the results will follow. The data is clear; thanks to Tonys leadership children are better prepared for success.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Jeb Bush-created Foundation for Florida's Future also spoke positively of Bennett.

Tony has been a bold champion for students, and the bottom line is students are better off thanks to him, said Levesque. Under Commissioner Bennetts leadership, Indiana graduation rates increased every year, while the number of students dropping out of school decreased by 48 percent. By the end of Tonys time as Indianas chief, 81 percent of students were passing the state mathematics test. While in Florida, he led passionately and put Florida on a path that will guide the transition to higher standards. He is a good man and a good friend. Floridas students will feel the loss of his leadership the most.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford took to Twitterto thank Bennett for hisservice to Florida and commitment to education reform.

This is the third education commissioner Florida has had since Rick Scott took office in 2011. Gerard Robinson, who held the position from June 2011 to 2012 resigned after the department was forced to lower the passing grade for the statewide writing test after passing rates plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth-graders.

Florida now faces struggles ahead with no commissioner as the state prepares to implement the national Common Core State Standards, which will change the way Floridas students learn material in the classroom. The standards are expected to be a higher level of learning and will be fully implemented in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at

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