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Florida Education Commissioner doctors grades for charter schools, gets caught, quits 'with head held high'

Tony Bennett's terrible, no-good week

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“They need to understand that anything less than an ‘A’ for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” he wrote in an email, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Actually, if it’s accountability you’re after, anything more than a “C” would seem the greater compromise, right?

But if your accountability involves your campaign bank account, then Bennett probably made the right choice. Christel DeHaan, the school’s founder, is a huge Republican donor, one who has shifted $130,000 in Bennett’s direction over the years. (Fun fact: Walmart heiress Alice Walton is a six-figure Bennett fan, too.)

Because instantly admitting your awfulness is not a Republican reality, Bennett stood by his story, even with the offending emails, basically saying that there was a leak somewhere that was politically motivated, and so what about the grade change, because you guys just don’t understand. In effect, Bennett justified his behavior by asserting that Christel was the kind of school other schools should be modeled after, according to the Times, so the ends here justified the means.

Until they didn’t.

“It’s not fair to the children of Florida that I continue as commissioner and deal with this distraction,” Bennett said at a Wednesday press conference, not the least bit dismissively. “I end my tenure with my head held high.”

Two things: You created this distraction by lying; eight months is not much of a tenure. Got it? Naturally, Gov. Scott and old buddy Jeb Bush showered respect and tears on Bennett’s dismount, if only to keep things looking good in the “reform” mafia family.

Others, though, saw the Bennett tumble as something indicative of a larger problem. While activists launched a petition drive to halt the school grading system altogether – which will be complicated, given that there are federal components to the rankings – some elected officials argued that Bennett’s former position should cease to be a political appointment, and should go back to being an elected position.

“Floridians have become tired of individuals who are picked by kingmakers who really don’t understand the meat and potatoes of Florida education,” state Sen. Dwight Bullard said in a statement Aug. 2. “What we are in essence dealing with is a lack of trust among Floridians of those who are putting these people in place.”

Maybe soon we can get back to fulfilling the social contract of guaranteed quality education in public schools? All this reform talk is becoming a bit of a distraction.

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