Tony Bennett for Florida ed commish?

Shock and buzz. Tony Bennett’s loss was last night’s big jawdropper in the ed realm. But shock is already giving way to welling speculation that Indiana’s loss will be Florida’s gain.

Education Week wrote that Bennett, the Hoosier State’s superintendent of public instruction, “could be a natural fit” for the opening in Florida. Education researcher Rick Hess said Bennett will land on his feet “given that folks are likely to be clamoring for his services (including the state of Florida, which is desperately seeking a new chief).” The Gradebook, the ed blog for the Tampa Bay Times, put this headline on its first post of the day, “Might Indiana superintendent stunner yield Florida commissioner candidate?”

Speculation that Bennett may be headed to the Sunshine State began well before last night’s loss. And it’s easy to see why. Bennett championed Florida-style reforms in Indiana, including implementation of a statewide voucher program. He’s part of the Chiefs for Change group formed by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. And he makes a lot of sense when he talks persuasively about new definitions of public education that aren’t either/or. “We have allowed our opponents to draw a caricature of us that says we’re against public schools,” Bennett said last spring at the American Federation for Children conference. “I’m not an adversary of public schools. I’m an advocate for public school children.”

Applications for the Florida commissioner post are due by Nov. 30. We called and emailed the Indiana Department of Education to see if we could find out about Bennett’s plans. If we hear back, we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, there’s also plenty of commentary today about why Bennett lost to Glenda Ritz, an elementary school media specialist.

Hess and others suggest it wasn’t just because of pushback from the “education establishment.” From the other end of the spectrum, some conservatives did not appreciate Bennett’s strong support for Common Core. Wrote Andy Smarick in Flypaper: “The result of the Indiana election concerns me because it shows not only that reformers can be vulnerable to sustained bombardment from the left, but also that we need to be concerned about our right flank. A year ago, I never would have thought that possible.”

More from Mike Petrilli at Fordham and the Indianapolis Star.

UPDATE AT 4:16 P.M.: redefinED Associate Editor Sherri Ackerman reached Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand a little bit ago. He said Bennett is “somebody I would definitely want to consider for our job here.”

Since Indiana adopted some of Florida’s key reforms, Bennett would be on the same page with state education leaders here, Chartrand suggested. “We have a lot of same reforms being implemented – Common Core, PARCC assessments,” he said. “He’s certainly somebody capable of executing a plan like that.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at