By Michelle Malkin
The resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett couldn’t have come at a better time. His disgraceful grade-fixing scandal is the perfect symbol of all that’s wrong with the federal education schemes peddled by Bennett and his mentor, former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush: phony academic standards, crony contracts, big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as “reform”.
Bennett stepped down Thursday after the Associated Press reported that he had meddled with charter school accountability ratings in Indiana last fall while serving as that state’s schools superintendent. The beneficiary of his intervention? Big GOP donor and charter school operator Christel DeHaan, who has forked over nearly $3 million to Republicans (including $130,000 to Bennett).
DeHaan’s Christel House Academy charter school magically went from a “C” rating to an “A” rating despite failing 10th-grade math scores. An abysmal 33 percent of the school’s 10th-grade Algebra I students passed. Note: The school uses the widely panned elementary-level Everyday Math curriculum (which I’ve exposed in previous columns) and a newfangled secondary program called the Carnegie Learning Math Series, whose website prominently brags that its “courses were developed to align to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” More on that in a moment.
Emails showed that Bennett was far more concerned about how a low grade would look than about maintaining the integrity of the grading system. Evaluators “need to understand that anything less than an ‘A’ for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett complained. “This will be a HUGE problem for us,” he worried in another message obtained by the AP.
Cronyism and corruption come in all political stripes and colors. As a conservative parent of public charter school-educated children, I am especially appalled by these pocket-lining GOP elites who are giving grassroots education reformers a bad name and cashing in on their betrayal of limited-government principles.
It turns out that Bennett’s wife was hired by an outfit called “Charter Schools USA” to serve as a regional director in Florida. The group just happens to be the same one Bennett contracted with to operate schools in Indianapolis that the state had taken over. The Indianapolis Star reported: “Tina Bennett is now earning a paycheck from the company her husband handpicked to take over schools in Indiana, a decision that was very good for the company’s financial fortunes.” Like the Church Lady said: How conveeeenient!
Excellent charter schools across the country have a hard time as it is battling hostile public employee unions and far-left detractors. This dirty government scandal makes the fight for local and parental choice in education all the more difficult. Education analyst Jim Stergios at the Pioneer Institute sums up the damage caused: It’s “bad for accountability, for the public trust and for education reform.
“Amen. But instead of condemning his actions, the tone-deaf, ethics-blind Jeb Bush heaped praise on Bennett for his “leadership” after his resignation. Bush’s nonprofit vehicle, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, chimed in, as well, calling Bennett a “bold champion for students” and “a good man and a good friend.”