Though Election Day wasn’t kind to Democrats in Indiana, the Indiana schools chief, Republican Tony Bennett, was beaten in a big way by Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz. Hoosiers registered their displeasure with Bennett’s overhaul of public education, which can best be summarized as privatization.
But don’t cry for Bennett. He recently accepted a job to run the Florida public school system. He was hired by Gov. Rick Scott, an acolyte of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who is a big-time education reformer.
Florida might want to pause now that Indiana voters have so roundly rejected Bennett. Florida teachers are already up in arms about Bennett’s imminent arrival. His reputation precedes him.
Bennett, with the full backing of Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican majority in the Legislature, ushered in an era of changes to public education by giving increased amounts of tax dollars to charter schools and vouchers for students to use at private schools. Critics warned at the time that the charters and private schools would cherry pick the students leaving public schools with less money and more difficult students. They were right.
Currently, 30 percent of Anderson Community Schools’ students are in special education while many of the brighter students took voucher money or transferred to public schools with higher academic reputations, such as Yorktown.
This has been playing out all over the state. Bennett contends it is better to give parents choice in where their kids go to school. Another controversial law under Bennett was the assignment of letter grades to schools.
After he got beaten by Ritz, Bennett and his fellow state school board members, all appointed by Daniels, approved a rule to allow anyone to be a teacher based on their subject experience and not teacher preparation. This was another area of reform that Bennett wanted to accomplish. The board did not heed Ritz’s plea to wait until she took office to discuss the matter.
If Bennett really wanted to help Indiana education, he could go back to being a teacher or administrator. Instead, he will take his reform ideas to Florida where a sympathetic governor and legislature will usher in new ideas for the public schools. Bennett can expect resistance from the teachers unions, but with backing by the governor and legislature, he’ll reshape public education.