INDIANAPOLIS - Florida has hired outgoing Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett to be its next state education commissioner.
The state’s Board of Education voted Wednesday to hire the hard-charging Republican reformer just a month after voters denied his bid for a second four-year term as Indiana state superintendent of public instruction.
"I am humbled and honored to begin a new journey serving the students, educators and citizens of Florida. The Sunshine State has a strong record of implementing policies that give all students every opportunity possible to achieve a bright future," Bennett said Wednesday. "I look forward to beginning work with Florida's state leadership and educators, and I will do everything in my power to ensure Florida's children continue to benefit from a forward looking and success-driven approach."
It means he’ll have a new job from which to push an agenda similar to the one he achieved in Indiana – without the threat of election losses, since Florida’s education commissioner is hired by its education board, rather than elected.
“We have a great opportunity to continue Florida’s moment,” Bennett said Wednesday in Tallahassee after the board’s unanimous vote to hire him.
The vote was not a major surprise, since Bennett is a close ally of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose education institutions have advanced a number of the ideas Bennett implemented in Indiana.
He is replacing Gerard Robinson, who was hired in 2011 and resigned in August after only about a year, in part because his wife had not been able to find a job in the Tallahassee area and remained in Virginia.
Florida’s education board interviewed three finalists for the job on Tuesday – Bennett, Murray State University President Randy Dunn, and Charles Hokanson, Jr., a deputy assistant U.S. secretary of education in President George W. Bush’s administration.
After receiving the appointment, Bennett said he's anticipating working in the Sunshine State.
"I am humbled and honored to begin a new journey serving the students, educators and citizens of Florida. The Sunshine State has a strong record of implementing policies that give all students every opportunity possible to achieve a bright future," Bennett said. "I look forward to begin work with Florida's state leadership and educators, and I will do everything in my power to ensure Florida's children continue to benefit from a forward looking and success driven approach."
The job will likely mean a major pay raise for Bennett. He earned $87,790 in Indiana, but the Florida board of education will negotiate with him for a salary that was advertised as being as much as $275,000.
Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2011 pushed a series of education reforms through the Indiana General Assembly. Those included new private school voucher and charter school programs and tighter controls on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
They also pushed to base teachers’ pay on students’ performance, and Bennett implemented an A-through-F grading system for schools that receive state cash.
He was defeated on Nov. 6 by Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who was fueled by a strong social media campaign among teachers and their unions, as well as tea party opposition to “Common Core” standards being implemented across many states.