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Opening Arguments

A change for the changer

When Gov. Daniels came through a few weeks ago, we asked him about what might be in store for defeated Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. He said something like, "Oh, don't worry about him -- he'll land on his feet." Didn't take long for him to be proven right:

Former Indiana superintendent Tony Bennett has been selected as the new education commissioner in Florida, the state board of education announced Dec. 12, just five weeks after Bennett lost his re-election bid in Indiana.

Bennett was interviewed Dec. 11 along with two other candidates, Charles Hokanson Jr. and Randy Dunn.

"We still have more work to do as we continue our transition to Common Core State Standards and ensure we offer a world-class education to Florida's students. Tony has had a tremendous impact on education in Indiana, and we are delighted to have him lead Florida into the future," state board president Gary Chartrand said in a statement released Dec. 12.

Ever since he lost the Nov. 6 election in Indiana to Democrat Glenda Ritz, Bennett, a Republican, seemed like a natural fit for Florida's top education post. He is the president of Chiefs for Change, a group of state superintendents who push for changes to teacher evaluations and for expanded school choice. That group is affiliated with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an advocacy group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose policy legacy and influence in the state remains significant.

Until Bennett came along to shake up Indiana education, Florida had the reputation of being the most reform-minded state in the union, so "natural fit" seems like a good description. Bennett got a lot of good things done here (expansion of choice, for example) and made a few bad moves (his support for the common core) and stirred up a lot of controversy. Sometimes it was hard to tell how much of the fuss was because of the conservative reaction to change and how much was because of his take-no-prisoners attitude.

An irony of his defeat is that he was one of the strongest proponents of making the superintendent position here appointive instead of elective. If he'd won, the General Assembly might well have considered legislation to make that change. But in their recent remarks, it seems clear the victorious legislative Republicans are reluctant to do that now lest it seem like petty revenge for Democrat Glenda Ritz's victory. The main reason for an appointive superintendent is that it allows a governor and the education chief to be in sync on major policy initiatives. Bennett will be just as much an agent of change as ever -- whatever you think of those changes. Ritz, on the other hand, is going to have a very frustrating four years of trying to turn back the tides of change.