TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s education commissioner resigned Thursday amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana’s school chief.
Commissioner Tony Bennett announced his resignation, effective immediately, at a news conference. He said that while he did nothing wrong he didn’t want to be a distraction to ongoing efforts to overhaul Florida’s education system.
The Florida State Board of Education will hold an emergency meeting Friday. Board members are expected to name Pam Stewart as an interim commissioner. Stewart, who is currently chancellor for the division of public schools, served as interim commissioner before Bennett was hired.
Emails published by The Associated Press this week show that Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Republican donor’s Christel DeHaan’s school received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C.
Bennett called that interpretation “malicious and unfounded” and said he would call for Indiana’s inspector general to look into the allegations because he is certain he will be cleared of wrongdoing.
He said it would be unfair to Gov. Rick Scott “to have to spend my time and the State Board (of Education’s) time, as things continue to trickle out, defending myself.” Bennett called the allegations “politically motivated.” He said the decision to step down was his and that both Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Republicans, had urged him to remain on the job.
“The decision to resign is mine and mine only because I believe that when this discussion turns to an adult, we lose the discussion about making life better for children,” Bennett said.
Bennett lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana. He was hired a month later by Florida as its education commissioner, a nonelected post that pays $275,000.