State leaders launch review of A-F grading scandal
By TOM LoBIANCO The Associated Press August 2, 2013 12:48PM
Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett announces his resignation at a news conference on Thursday, August 1, 2013, in Tallahassee, Fla. Bennet resigned amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
Updated: September 4, 2013 6:11AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s top lawmakers are creating a task force to review the state’s “A-F” school grading system following the revelation former state schools superintendent Tony Bennett changed the grading formula for a Republican donor’s charter school.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long and Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma announced Friday the creation of an independent task force to review the school grading system. They noted their previous concerns with the school grading system, but Bennett’s efforts detailed in emails obtained by The Associated Press raised new concerns for them.
“Since then, the issue has been brought to the forefront in negative ways and our concerns about the previous assessment system are increasing,” Bosma and Long wrote in a letter Friday.
The two enlisted John Grew, a former aide to then-Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon, and Bill Sheldrake, the former head of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, to review the grading system. The pair is expected to complete that before Labor Day.
The pair will evaluate the A-F formula, determine the validity of the grades awarded and make recommendations to the state Board of Education and General Assembly.
Bennett resigned from his job as Florida’s schools chief Thursday, a few days after emails were published about his efforts to change the school-grading formula for the Christel House charter school in Indianapolis.
Bennett attributed the revelation about the grades to political attacks from opponents and has maintained he did not grant special treatment to Christel House. The school’s founder, Christel DeHaan, has also said she did not seek special treatment and the emails show no request on her part.
Democratic state schools superintendent Glenda Ritz says her office is conducting an internal review. Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, said he is waiting to see what Ritz’s assessment uncovers before making any decisions.
“The most important thing we can do moving forward is to have an independent and fair assessment of the A-F school grading process,” Long said in a statement Friday.
Indiana’s school grades are used to determine how much money schools get and whether “failing” schools are taken over by private operators, like Charter Schools USA. They also have become critical economic development tools in recent years, used in part by homebuyers picking locations based on the quality of their schools.
Indiana teacher unions and local school superintendents called for the immediate suspension of the grades Bennett’s office issued last year. But Statehouse leaders from Ritz to Long and Bosma have hesitated to make any immediate decisions.
Bosma said state lawmakers already had decided earlier this year to scrap Bennett’s A-F formula and return to the drawing board. Local superintendents frequently complained last year about an inability to get straight answers from the Department of Education on the formula used to determine their grades.
Bennett’s emails fill in some of those answers, although it’s still unclear exactly how he changed the grading formula last year.