Former State School Superintendent Tony Bennett defended the changing of the grades of several charter schools, including one funded by a campaign contributor to his and many other campaigns in Indiana.
Emails released by the Associated Press this week show a frantic exchange between Bennett and others within his
Department of Education in September 2012 after it became clear that the Christel House school would receive a grade of C when the A-F grades were to be issued.
Christel House is funded by philanthropist Christel DeHaan, who had given money to Bennett‘s campaigns for office as well as the campaigns of many Indiana politicians and causes.
Bennett is now Florida‘s Education Commissioner. He says politics had nothing to do with the efforts to raise Christel House‘s grade from a C to an A, which ultimately is what the school received.
DeHaan issued a statement saying she never said anything to Bennett or anyone else about the school‘s grade. A search of campaign finance records at the Indiana Secretary of State‘s website shows that while most of her donations have gone to Republicans or the Republican party, DeHaan has also donated to Democrats – including Indianapolis Representative Greg Porter and former House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer.
In a Tuesday conference call with members of the media from Florida – a call in which Indiana media members were not invited, Bennett said the email exchange had to do with adjusting the formula used to calculate A-F grades for schools that did not have four classes of high school students.
Christel House had students from kindergarten through 10th grade in 2011-12, the year for which its grade was changed. Bennett said the schools were being penalized for an non-existent graduation rate, since the schools had no graduates yet. But an email from Jon Gubera, at the time Bennett‘s Chief Accountability Officer, never mentioned this.
Gubera said that Christel House‘s 10th-graders performed poorly on the math portion of statewide testing, and said that was the primary factor in bringing its grade down to a C. Bennett has pointed out that more than a dozen charter schools in similar situations had their grades adjusted.
But Christel House was the sole focus of almost all the emails released by the AP. As Bennett himself said in one email, Christel House was a school singled out as one that would have a grade of A no matter the metrics used to determine the grades.
Bennett at the time was trying to convince lawmakers to go along with his adjustment of the formula used to determine A-F grades.