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Schools and Education Ousted Indiana School Chief Hired as Florida Education Commissioner


BRADENTON – Tony Bennett lost his bid for re-election for state superintendent of public schools in Indiana last month, but Governor Rick Scott thought he'd be a perfect fit for the Sunshine State. Bennett has ties to Jeb Bush and is said to have modeled some of Indiana's policies on those championed by the ex-governor, including grading schools A-F, expanding voucher programs and making it easier for charter schools to open in the state.

Despite an 8-1 fundraising advantage, the Republican candidtate lost his reelection campaign in November to grassroots Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz. A former private school teacher, Bennett has been an outspoken advocate for the voucher programs that former Gov. Bush has been championing nationally, while promoting his Foundation for Excellence in Education. Gov. Scott has been hot on vouchers since campaigning for office in 2010, and Indiana's voucher program is one of the most expansive in the country.

Ritz's success in ousting Bennett came with the help of strong support from public school teachers who reportedly had strong opposition to Bennett's penchant for standardized tests and teacher assessments, as well as his anti-union stances. Bennett also helped coordinate the state takeover of five failing schools that Indiana then turned over to private companies, philosophically similar to the so-called parent-trigger bill that failed in Florida during the most recent legislative session.

Bennett reportedly pushed for the expansion of online courses in Indiana, including an unsuccessful effort to require every student in the state to take an online course before graduating. Unlike some Florida conservatives, however, Bennett was a champion for the increasingly controversial “common core standards” which 46 states have agreed to implement in 2014. Indiana has already approved the national standards, though they have yet to be implemented and Ruiz ran opposed to them.

Bennett is expected to start in mid-January. The state board of education will now begin negotiating a contract with him. Bennett's predecessor at the post, Gerard Robinson, was making $275,000 before he resigned in July.

The statewide teachers union, Florida Education Association, was critical of the Governor's selection of Bennett, saying in a release that "Bennett proved to be divisive in his tenure in the same position in Indiana and was voted out of office last month in the conservative state," in a statement from union president Andy Ford. "He is a champion of the testing mania, unchecked expansion of charter schools and voucher programs and has proven to advance the Jeb Bush education agenda that has drawn fire from teachers, parents and experts in the field."

“We certainly hope he has learned his lessons by being rejected in Indiana. But we’re skeptical. This decision does not indicate that the State Board of Education and Gov. Rick Scott understand that parents, teachers and those who question a flawed reform agenda deserve their voices heard and their insights and expertise incorporated into Florida’s strategy for public education. The Board and the governor once again have ignored the parents and teachers of our state.”

Click here to see Bennett's resume.


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