“I’ll be really bold here,” outgoing state superintendent Tony Bennett remarked after Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting:
What other state school chief in the history of the country has had the opportunity to serve with a governor in his second term who has an approval rating of almost 70 percent who made education reform a priority and said, ‘Go forth, craft, execute, and implement the most bold education reform agenda in the United States?’ Who gets that chance?
Bennett was speaking to reporters after overseeing the final approval of the last of his administration’s “bold” and controversial initiatives — an overhaul of the state’s teacher licensing rules known as “REPA II.”
Still clearly saddened by his loss to Glenda Ritz in November’s election — and the end of his tenure in a “once in a lifetime” job — Bennett also addressed his future plans. Now a finalist to be Florida’s education commissioner, we’ll likely know by next week whether he’s won that position.Here are a few snippets from Bennett’s remarks. On Ritz, he told reporters:
The voters spoke, the voters made a choice, and I respect that choice. I respect it with all my heart and I wish my successor nothing but the best.
On the transition process:
I met with Glenda [Tuesday]. We had a very cordial conversation. I want to be very clear, I pray for nothing but the best for Glenda Ritz. I say this for one reason: I pray for nothing for the best of the children of our state. People can criticize everything we’ve done. They can criticize every policy position I have, they can call me a corporate pig, they can say I’m selling out to the private companies, I hate public school teachers — no one will ever doubt that I love Indiana schoolchildren and that I want what’s best for Indiana schoolchildren. And the future of Indiana schoolchildren is now going to squarely rest on in large part Ms. Ritz’s back as state superintendent. And for that reason, I hope she does a great job. I hope she does a great job because our children need it, our children deserve it…
I offered Ms. Ritz the same transition situation that Dr. [Suellen] Reed offered me in 2008. We’ve been very consistent with that all along.
On why he applied in Florida:
As a guy who is a Hoosier through and through, who spent all but one year of his professional life in Indiana, I had to ask myself how important it was to balance that issue between loving the role of state school chief and driving education policy for children of a state versus living in Indiana. And I don’t believe there are any other states in the country better than Florida to do what I love to do. I’m excited about it, but will it will be hard? Of course it’ll be hard. But on January 11, I have to make a pretty quick emotional and intellectual pivot. And that emotional and intellectual pivot is I have to put Indiana in my rear-view mirror if I’m selected. And I have to underscore, ‘if I’m selected’…
I’m thrilled that the opportunity exists, and I hope the opportunity works out. I hope that on [December] 12 that we have the opportunity to serve the state of Florida, and the children of Florida more importantly than anything.
On whether he had other offers in Indiana:
This discussion kinda always makes me feel uncomfortable because— you know, I never like when people say, ‘Oh, so-and-so called me and wanted me to apply for a job.’ It sounds a little self-serving, so I don’t ever want to say that. But I’m sure there would be opportunities for me to continue to reside in Indiana — maybe do work elsewhere and reside in Indiana… But I had to weight what was the thing I loved the most, and I’m pretty passionate about my job.
On the REPA II educator licensing proposal, which Ritz opposes:
Bennett: Ms. Ritz did ask [in the meeting with Bennett] as you heard her ask, that these actions [REPA II] be tabled, and with all the sincerity in the world, I took an oath of office to execute the duties of my office until the end of my term, which is January 11. And while that might not be what she was hoping to hear, that’s what I intend to do, and I continue to work to those ends. I think we’ve had a positive transition, I hope she has a great transition, I hope she puts together a great staff that serves our children well because our children need that.
StateImpact: On the tabling point, it seems like she comes up and makes this request, and now she will be in charge of overseeing the implementation of a very complex set of rules that she doesn’t necessarily agree with — in fact, wholeheartedly opposes in a lot of cases. Was it right to saddle her with that?
Bennett: My job is to execute what we’ve been doing for eight months; is to execute what I believe as superintendent of public instruction, to execute good public policy. This has been on the table for a long time. So I don’t look at it as saddling her. She could very well — and I hope she is — saddled with a Supreme Court-upheld voucher program and she’s going to have to administer that. She wholeheartedly disagrees with that to the extent that she’s a plaintiff on the lawsuit. And I wholeheartedly hope that she’s saddled with that, frankly. And I don’t mean that critically, I don’t mean that negatively toward Ms. Ritz. I mean that because our children are better because of that public policy.