Fla. education commissioner resigns after controversial emails surface

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida is once again searching for a new leader for its schools after education commissioner Tony Bennett announced his resignation.
 
Bennett's announcement Thursday came three days after The Associated Press revealed he had changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief.
 
Bennett again denied wrongdoing but said he didn't want to be a distraction to Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul the state's education system.
 
Emails published by the AP and obtained by Channel 9 show Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan's school, Christel House, received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C.


PDF: Bennett's emails while serving in Indiana


Bennett lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana and was hired by Florida in December.

Channel 9's Lori Brown spoke with Bennett, who maintained that despite how the emails may look, he did nothing wrong.

In the email chain, Bennett wrote, "I am anxious to see the grade for Christel House."

When staff said, "They will for sure be at least a B," Bennett responded, "This will be a huge problem for us."

The emails go on to show a scramble to change a grading formula so that in the end Christel House receives an A despite staff determining that it deserved the C grade.

At a Tallahassee news conference, Bennett explained his decision to resign.

"Because I don't believe we should be distracted," Bennett said. "I made a decision today in light of the malicious and unfounded reports out of Indiana that it was not fair to Gov. Scott and his pursuit."

Bennett said he made the decision to resign on his own and that Scott told him he should stay.

Linda Kobert, of Fund Education Now, is hopeful that Bennett's emails will spark a change in the school accountability system.

"When it can be manipulated by politicians for personal gain or profit, it shows the system itself has no credibility any longer," she said.

Bennett claims he changed the grading formula because it was unfair to 13 schools without 11th and 12th grades.

The Board of Education is meeting Friday to select an interim commissioner.