You remember Tony Bennett? Not the famous singer but the guy who was State Commissioner of education in Florida. The guy who led the effort to privatize public education in Indiana and led the charge for charter schools, vouchers, for-profit charters, virtual charters, high-stakes testing, the A-F grading system, and the elimination of collective bargaining rights for teachers. Remember that he was honored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as the leading “reformer” (translated, privatizers) of all state chiefs. He was also chair of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” composed of state superintendents who share Jeb’s antipathy to public education.
Now, you may recall, that Bennett ran for re-election and was trounced by Democrat Glenda Ritz. Despite Bennett’s more than 5-1 funding advantage over Ritz, she won more votes than the new Republican governor, Mike Pence.
Here is a recap: After his stunning defeat, Bennett was promptly hired as state superintendent in Florida, where Jeb Bush created the template for the privatization movement. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, newly elected Governor Pence has done whatever he could to strip power and authority away from Glenda Ritz’s office and turn it over to a parallel agency that he created or to the Legislature, controlled by his allies.
As for Bennett, he didn’t last long in Florida. In August 2013, he resigned after a journalist for AP revealed that Bennett and his team had changed the A-F grading system to avoid giving a C grade to a charter school founded by a major contributor. Bennett contested the journalist’s interpretation, but his resignation suggested tat he wasn’t prepared to fight to refute the allegations.
The Bennett story was one of the biggest of the year.
There is only one other important detail that has not been explored, at least not on this blog: Who put up nearly $2 million to re-elect Tony Bennett in Indiana? Was it supplied by grateful parents in Indiana? No.
Mostly, it was big out-of-state donors who fund the privatization movement across the nation, in state and even local races.
His single biggest contributor was Alice Walton of the Walmart family of Arkansas. She gave $200,000, nearly 11% of Bennett’s total. Alice Walton has generously funded privatization campaigns in Georgia, Washington state, and elsewhere.
His second largest contribution of $175,000 came from Dean V. White, an Indiana corporate leader who is a major on or to Indiana Republicans.
Christel Dehaan gave Bennett $90,000. It was her charter school that was at the center of the grade–fixing scandal. Dehaan gave a total of $283,000 to the Indiana Republican Party this year.
Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst contributed $64,000.
There were also contributions to Tony Bennett by Eli Broad of Los Angeles, who pretends to be a liberal Democrat; the voucher-loving, far-right American Federation of Children, led by the DeVos family; Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, who prefers to project an image as a liberal independent; Roger Hertog, equity investor in New York and former chair of NYC’s conservative Manhattan Institute; Dan Loeb, hedge fund manager in New York City.
Florida blogger Bob Sikes reported: “Rhee’s contribution to Bennett’s Indiana campaign places her among his top contributors. Among his contributors from Florida were three members of Florida’s board of education, Jeb Bush, Patricia Levesque and charter school giants Charter Schools USA and Academica.” Patricia Levesque is Jeb Bush’s top policy advisor.