(INDIANAPOLIS) - Florida schools chief Tony Bennett says he did not feel political pressure to revamp Indiana's school grading system while he led the state's education office despite emails showing his staff scrambled to give a key GOP donor's school an "A."
September 2012 emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett's staff sought ways to give Christel House Academy a top grade after 10th grade algebra scores pulled the school down to a "C'' in the state's A-F grading system.
At one point in the email exchanges, Bennett writes, "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."
In a separate email, he said, "I cannot count the number of times we have been in meetings with Christel, The Chamber, Brian Bosma, David Long and others when I have said that we count Christel House as an A school I have repeatedly said to all of them that we checked their data and give the 162 day calculation we were certain they are an A school....now here we are and they are not an A school."
Academy founder Christel DeHaan has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.
Bennett and DeHaan denied Monday that the academy received special treatment.
Bennett lost his Indiana job in November when voters ousted him in favor of Democrat Glenda Ritz. He was appointed Florida's education commissioner in December.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz released the following statement about the report on Tuesday:
"As the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, I am committed to strengthening our school accountability system. However, accountability only works when the people making decisions are both fair and transparent. That is why I worked with the General Assembly to include language in a new state law that will allow us to create a stronger accountability system.
"Last year, A-F grades were delayed multiple times. I heard concerns from Hoosier educators about problems with the state's grading system. In my first public testimony as Superintendent, I spoke about the problems in our accountability system. Yesterday's report by the Associated Press demonstrates the seriousness of these problems.
"The Department of Education is doing two things: First, there is an ongoing thorough examination of the current A-F model calculations to ensure that every school has the grade they earned in 2012; nothing more, nothing less. Second, Indiana is creating a new accountability system that will be both fair and transparent based on individual student academic performance and growth. This ensures that all Hoosiers can know exactly how their school is truly performing and what they need to do to improve. I look forward to the State Board of Education's support as we improve our accountability system."
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