Late last month, emails revealed that Bennett had tweaked the school grading model in Indiana last year to benefit a charter school run by an influential Republican Party donor. Bennett said he was trying to correct a flaw in the model that unfairly penalized high schools serving only ninth and 10th-grade students. But the emails led to a national media storm that cast doubt on the concept of grading schools, and prompted an investigation into the grading system in Indiana.
Bennett informed Bush of his resignation plans before he notified Gov. Rick Scott, emails obtained by the Herald/Times show. He also made it clear he was working to further Bush’s legacy.
“I … believed that if I could help Florida recapture the lightning in a bottle that you guys caught while re-establishing your model, it would further validate you guys and your work as a model for America,” he wrote in an email to Bush and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Bush stood by Bennett after the resignation, writing in an op-ed in the Miami Herald that “those who stooped to nasty political tactics to undermine Tony should be ashamed.”
But Diane Ravitch, a national critic of school grades, called the scandal a “huge embarrassment” for Bush.
“There is no individual more associated with the Bush education idea than Bennett other than Jeb himself,” she said.
Adding to Bush’s woes: the unexpected political dust-up over the Common Core standards.
Bush has said adopting a set of national curriculum standards will raise expectations for students in all states, and is championing the idea. But tea party groups and some prominent Republican lawmakers, including Rubio, have taken the position that curriculum standards ought to be developed on the state and local level.
“There are critics of Common Core Standards from both ends of the ideological spectrum,” Bush said Friday at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council. “I know there are some in this room. I respect those who don’t share my views. What I can’t accept are the dumbed down standards and expectations that exist in almost all of our schools today.”
With sharp criticism from the left and right, some observers say Bush is up against the perfect storm.
“He’s at a point where all of the policies are starting to unravel and the timing could not be worse for him,” said state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.
But supporters such as state Sen. John Legg, a Trinity Republican, believe Bush can weather the controversy.
“Florida has dramatically improved because of the initiatives he started,” said Legg, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “You can’t take that away from him.”
Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.