Mixed reaction to Tony Bennett, FL's new education commissioner

5:28 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
Tony Bennett has been hired as Florida's new education commissioner.
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Tallahassee, Florida - There's a dramatic contrast in the reaction to Florida's new pick for education commissioner.

The State Board of Education has hired Tony Bennett, who was just defeated last month in his bid for re-election as Indiana's state superintendent of schools.

Gov. Rick Scott praises Bennett as having a great record of achievement in Indiana, while Florida's teachers union calls him a champion of testing mania and voucher programs.

During Bennett's three-year tenure in Indiana, he developed a voucher program and modified the collective bargaining process to focus only on pay and benefits.

The high school graduation rate increased four points under his leadership.

The Florida Education Association says Gov. Scott must not have been listening carefully on his recent education tour around the state.

Spokesman Mark Pudlow says Bennett represents many of the things that parents, students and teachers don't like, such as excessive testing and tying students' performance to teacher pay and school grades.

"All the kinds of pressures that teachers, administrators and parents have been complaining about are the things that Tony Bennett has supported, so in a lot of ways it's kind of, meet the new boss, same as the old boss," said Pudlow. "We kind of hoped the governor would be listening. Tony Bennett just got ousted in Indiana for doing exactly the same kind of things that have been happening here in Florida; so we're kind of worried about exactly how things are going to play out here."

Gov. Scott says he's excited to welcome Bennett as Florida's new education commissioner. Scott says he wants Bennett to push forward the governor's College and Career FIRST Agenda, which focuses on preparing students for college and jobs.

"I am holding Tony accountable for driving the College and Career FIRST Agenda forward in support of Florida's students and teachers," said Scott. "I look forward to working with him on our goals to increase education funding and advocate for the professional development of Florida teachers, which is critical for student success."

Bennett will replace interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who has served in that role since Gerard Robinson resigned from the job last summer.

Dave Heller

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