BRADENTON – Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is at the center of an out-of-state scandal regarding preferential treatment given to a charter school fronted by a powerful political donor. Internal emails suggest that while previously serving as Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Schools, Bennett worked to change the state's grading system in order to favor a politically-connected charter school.
Emails obtained by the Associated Press show Bennett and his staff worked fervently last school year to ensure that influential donor Christel DeHaan's charter school received an "A" instead of its initial "C," despite poor test scores in algebra.
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal (who now works for Indiana Governor Mike Pence).
The controversial A-F grading system that had been adopted by Bennett has broad impacts, including funding. Bennett, who was hired by Florida Governor Rick Scott after being promoted by former Florida Governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, has denied special treatment was given.
DeHaan's school, Christel House, was not the only school to benefit from the changes, however, the emails suggest that they were the driving force in developing different criteria. Founder Christel DeHaan has reportedly given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett (Indiana's position is an elected post), while also supporting state legislative leaders.