Two Dem. lawmakers call on Tony Bennett to resign

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Two Florida Democrats in the state’s House of Representatives called today for Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to resign over the revelation he changed the grade of a donor’s charter school in Indiana.

According to e-mails sent last year while Bennett headed Indiana’s public education system, he pushed top staffers to raise from a “C” to an “A” the grade of Christel House, an Indianapolis charter school run by a Bennett friend and campaign donor. The Associated Press first reported on the e-mails Monday.

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal.

On Wednesday, Rep. Janet Cruz and Rep. Mark Pafford called on Bennett to step down.

“We need someone whose credibility is not in question,” Cruz said. “The credibility of Florida’s grading system is in shreds. Floridians need to know that that game is not different here for charter schools, and that’s what worries me.”

Pafford said it’s time to “wipe the slate clean.”

“This is a public education issue,” he said. “All these kids need to have a system that’s not based on partisan rhetoric.”

Bennett could not immediately be reached for a response Wednesday. Gov. Rick Scott’s office has declined to weigh in on the matter.

But the calls to oust Bennett were not universal, even among Democrats.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he worries more about Florida’s accountability system than what Bennett did in Indiana.

“He has been responsive to the concerns of superintendents in Florida. Most superintendents have appreciated his approach,” said Montford, who is vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.