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Florida Education Commissioner resigns over school grades storm

11:39 PM, Aug 1, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigns after just seven months on the job and becomes the fifth person to step down from the post during Gov. Rick Scott's tenure.

During a hastily arranged press conference Thursday, Bennett said he was resigning because he did not want to become a distraction in Gov. Scott's administration.

Bennett has come under fire in recent days following reports that when he was Indiana's education commissioner, he changed that state's school grading system last year to raise the grade for a charter school operated by a big Republican contributor.

Critics accused Bennett of rigging the school grading system in Indiana. He flatly rejected those accusations and called the reports malicious and unfounded.

But Bennett said he was resigning immediately to avoid becoming a distraction.

"Because I don't believe we should be distracted, I made a decision today in light of the malicious, unfounded reports out of Indiana that it was not fair to Gov. Scott and his pursuit and his very hard work in making Florida the greatest state in the country."

Public emails from Indiana showed some of Bennett's employees questioned whether changing the charter school's grade was legal, but ultimately it was changed from a "C' to an "A".

Bennett defended that action on Thursday.

"We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools, and I want to emphasize that because there's been a focus on one school, but did not allow 13 schools to have their grade truly reflect their performance because they were unfairly penalized for kids they didn't have in their school. That wasn't rigging anything. As a matter of fact, I want to say that I believe we did the right thing for Indiana schools and Indiana children."

Now Bennett says he will ask Indiana's inspector general to investigate the issue.

"That way we can put this issue to rest because, frankly, I am fearless about what they will find."

Bennett supported a controversial rule in Florida just two weeks that prohibited any school from dropping more than one letter grade. The decision allowed more than 150 schools that deserved an "F" to avoid getting a failing grade.

Asked if parents should be concerned about school grades in Florida, Bennett said absolutely not. And he added, "No one in Indiana should be concerned about school grades either."

Dave Heller

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