Bennett to Florida: Sure, why not?

It should come as no surprise that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is moving to Florida to take over as that state’s commissioner of education. Hey, I called this one in August. And back then I couldn’t have predicted Bennett would lose the election and be out of a job come January.

Bennett has looked to Florida for inspiration and ideas throughout his tenure as Indiana superintendent. A-to-F grades for schools, dramatic expansion of charter schools, retention for third-graders who don’t pass a reading test – all those Indiana policies were pioneered in the Sunshine State.

So were school vouchers, before the state’s Supreme Court held them to be unconstitutional.

And Bennett has long been a favorite of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He chairs Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization. Two members of the Florida State Board of Education are former Bush chiefs of staff. (The state board appoints the state education commissioner; the board’s members are appointed by the governor). So it makes perfect sense that he would be drawn to Florida, and vice versa. Continue reading

Bennett: Jeb Bush ‘knows exactly what to do and how to get it done’

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett cites former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a major influence on his approach to policy and politics in a recent Education Week article.

“He’s had an incredible influence on me, because he knows exactly what to do and how to get it done,” Bennett tells writer Sean Cavanaugh. “He wore what he believed would change the system on his sleeve, and he really invited the debate.”

Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush, served as Florida’s governor from 1999-2007. He established the Foundation for Excellence in Education after leaving office. He disavows speculation that he may someday run for president, Education Week says.

The article focuses on Bush’s shift from governing the fourth most populous state to being a national leader on education. It identifies Indiana as one of the states where “lawmakers and officeholders say they are determined to follow the ambitious and often polarizing education blueprint fashioned by Mr. Bush.”

That includes promoting charter schools, taking aggressive steps to turn around low-performing schools, evaluating teachers on student test scores gains, and grading schools on an A-to-F system. It also includes taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for some students to attend private schools. Florida adopted a voucher program under Bush but the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 2006.

In November, Bennett joined state education leaders from Rhode Island, Louisiana, Florida and Virginia to form Chiefs for Change to push for ambitious state-level reforms. The group was launched at a summit sponsored by Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.