Florida Schools Commissioner Tony Bennett, who is currently revamping that state's grading system for school performance, apparently changed the grade of an Indiana charter school run by a major Republican donor while serving as Indiana school chief.
That's according to emails obtained by the Associated Press, which outline a series of conversations between Bennett and his staff after they discovered that Christel House, a charter school founded by Christel DeHaan, was about to get a "C" grade thanks to low 10th grade algebra scores. DeHaan gave $130,000 in contributions to Bennett, and over $2 million overall to Republicans since 1998.
It's not clear from the emails exactly what changed in the way the grades were calculated to successfully raise Christel House's ranking from a "C" to an "A." (According to the AP, the charter school's grade was raised twice in the process) The documents do show that, despite Bennett's claim that about a dozen schools benefitted from the overhaul, Christel House was at the front of the education department's mind, in no small part because Bennett had already told the charter school that they'd get a good grade under his system. Here's an email to that effect, from Bennett to his staff:
DeHaan, speaking to the AP, said that representatives from her school may have talked with the Department of Education about improving the grading system overall, but not, specifically to convince the state to single out Christel House for a bump — in other words, they're saying they didn't ask for any special treatment, whether they got it or not. Meanwhile, Bennett told the AP that he did nothing wrong — the fact that Christel House's rating was low, he said, indicated that the system was flawed, and not the other way around. The grade change represented improvements to the formula used to determine the grades.
Those school rankings are very consequential: A school scoring several failing grades under Bennett's system (which Bennett's Democratic replacement is overhauling) could be taken over by a private company assigned by the state. They also affect funding.
Bennett was voted out of office in Indiana last November. He moved down to Florida's school system one month later.
The AP's emails are here (via JConline):