When Indiana voters chose last month not to renew the tenure of the state's top education official, Tony Bennett, it was seen as a blow to the “education reform” community nationally. Now, Bennett will operate on a larger stage, as the newly hired commissioner of education in Florida, the fourth most populous state in the country. The Florida Board of Education unanimously appointed Bennett to the position Wednesday (December 12).
Under Bennett's leadership, Indiana made more changes to education policy than any other state in the country, imposing A to F grading for schools, scaled-back teacher tenure, a broad private school voucher system, and a third-grade reading test students are required to pass in order to advance to fourth grade.
Florida Governor Rick Scott praised Bennett's previous work.
“Tony has a great record of achievement in Indiana,” Scott said in a statement, “and I am confident he will be a tireless advocate for Florida's students.”
Several of the changes Bennett promoted in Indiana traced their origins to Florida, where they had been introduced during the tenure of former Governor Jeb Bush. Since his time in office, Bush has started the Foundation for Education Excellence, which has worked with states to promote many of the same changes instituted in Indiana.
Bush's organization championed the hire of Bennett, as did Michelle Rhee, whose StudentsFirst organization also advocates for some of the same policies.
Bennett had a rocky relationship with the Indiana State Teachers Association, which he said was responsible for his removal last month, and the Florida Education Association, the leading teachers' group in that state, isn't pleased by news of his hire.
“(Bennett) is a champion of the testing mania, unchecked expansion of charter schools and voucher programs and has proven to advance the Jeb Bush education agenda that has drawn fire from teachers, parents and experts in the field,” said FEA President Andy Ford in a statement.
The move appears to bring a significant pay increase for Bennett. He's currently listed as making just under $88,000 a year, according to the Indiana Transparency Panel. The Florida position is expected to pay up to $275,000, according to a job posting from education executive search company Ray and Associates.