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Tony Bennett: “I’m perfectly prepared to defend and uphold what we did”

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Tony Bennett announced his resignation as Florida’s education commissioner Thursday afternoon, amid controversy he manipulated Indiana’s A-F grading system to boost charter schools while serving as state superintendent.

Eight-hundred miles away and nearly eight months after starting his job, Bennett said he was stepping down because the scandal was too much of a distraction for education reformers in Florida.

“I don’t think the children of Florida and our State Board of Education or governor deserve me having to constantly deal with this,” Bennett said. “I’m perfectly prepared to defend and uphold what we did.”

Emails obtained by Fox59 indicate Bennett and his staff manipulated Indiana’s A-F grading formula to help boost charter schools — particularly, the Christel House Academy, run by big Republican donor, Christel DeHaan. The school received an “A” grade instead of a “C”.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote to his staff in September 2012. “They need to understand that anything less than an ‘A’ for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work. We may lose Pence on this as well.”

“We just didn’t fully trust him,” said Teresa Meredith of Indiana State Teachers Association President. “Now, when you hear the kinds of things that we’re hearing and you see the emails that are out there, it seems to affirm what we felt all along. Things just weren’t quite what we thought they would be.”

Christel DeHaan issued her own statement late Thursday afternoon:

“Neither I nor anyone connected with Christel House made any request to have any grade changed. I endorse the call of many public officials of both political parties for a thorough review of the grades given to schools in 2012 and revisions made if they are inaccurate.”

Bennett maintains he wasn’t rigging anything and did the right thing for Indiana schools and students.

Some educators disagree, saying it came at the expense of some public schools.

“This isn’t just about something that changed a grade for a few schools,” said Meredith. “This has significant impact on the schools that were changed.”