By Victor Skinner
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former Indiana state Superintendent Tony Bennett may have lost re-election in his home state, but he isn’t finished with the fight to reform government education.
His new project will be helping to improve Florida’s public schools.
Bennett was tapped this week to become the next education commissioner for the Sunshine State, and the Florida Education Association is already up in arms, News Service of Florida reports.
The union has good reason to be nervous.
During his term in Indiana, Bennett ushered in the broadest private school voucher program in the nation, greatly expanded opportunities for charter schools, tied teacher evaluations to student achievement, limited union bargaining to pay and benefits, and beefed up the state’s school accountability system.
The Indiana State Teachers Association hated him with a passion for his no-apologies approach to putting students ahead of union interests. And they played a key role in his defeat in the November election.
Now, Florida teachers unions can hate him too.
“He’s a champion of 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,” FEA President Andy Ford said in a statement, according to the news service.
Some Florida Democrats with close ties to the FEA are also crying about the decision.
“Florida deserves an education commissioner who puts public schools and public school students first,” said state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation.
We believe Florida students deserve an education commissioner who will put their best interests ahead of the bureaucrats and union officials who have grown dependent on the public education system. Florida’s education system needs a leader who understands that government schools aren’t a perfect fit for all students, and that parents deserve the right to determine the appropriate school for their child.
Few education reformers understand those issues better than Bennett.
He has demonstrated time and again that he’s focused like a laser on improving the academic experience for all kids, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they succeed.