Tony Bennett and his staff pushed for school accountability in the form of a school grading system. However, when Bennett's grading system showed one of his most cherished charter schools as a "C" school, he actively sought a change of the system to make Christel House Academy (founded by Christel De Haan, an active contributor to the Republican party in Indiana) an "A" school. Bennett's relationship with Christel De Haan and Christel House Academy should be examined more closely by the Indiana Office Of Inspector General for any criminal and/or ethical wrongdoing.
These are the emails sent by Tony Bennett and members of Tony Bennett's staff.
Bennett built much of his tenure as State Superintendent of Public Instruction around revising Public Law 221, the Indiana law for school accountability, to include an updated grading system. This grading system was designed to give public and non-public schools a grade from A-F. The system has been criticized by many educators in Indiana and abroad but Bennett championed the system as the way to show communities how well a school was performing. The grades are also factored into educator evaluations which determine employment within a school and performance-based pay raises. The grades have also been used to evaluate whether or not a school should be subject to turnaround measures such as turning over a school to a charter operator (like Christel House Academy) or to an outside manager or even closing a school and relocating the staff and students.
Christel House Academy held a special place in Tony Bennett’s heart. Tom LoBianco notes this about Bennett and Christel House Academy: “Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.” Per StateImpact Indiana notes that Bennett stated that Christel House, along with Tindley, Signature, and Herron (all charter schools), were “A” schools by any measure.
Except he was wrong.
Christel House Academy was headed for a “C” and when Bennett found out, he demanded that something be done to make them an “A” school. LoBianco cites a Bennett email that stated: "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.” This Sept. 12 email was sent to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist.
LoBianco also points out that then-grading director Jon Gubera initially informed Bennett of Christel House's "C" grade. Per LoBianco, Bennett also states, "This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal. Neal replied, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
LoBianco outlines how the staff worked for a week to find a way to change the grade from a "C" to an "A" and the emails outline the options which include "loopholes" to aid the work of Bennett's staff with respect to the grading system.
Why did Bennett demand the system be changed to accommodate Christel House Academy? By his own words in conversation with StateImpact Indiana, Bennett says “We wanted a system that passed the face validity test, and the face validity test is that there are schools that are A schools and they should obviously be that.”
They should obviously be that? But what if they are not? A system that Bennett championed showed Christel House Academy as a “C” school and that would have messed up Bennett’s “accountability work” and he could not stomach explaining this fact to his colleagues and to Christel De Haan, a supporter of his political career. Instead of allowing Christel House Academy to receive the grade they earned, Bennett intervened to save his reputation with his colleagues and his backer, Christel De Haan.
Please investigate Tony Bennett and his staff for potential violations of several Indiana codes.
---IC 35-44-1 Chapter 1. Bribery, Conflict of Interest, and Official Misconduct
---IC 35-44-1 Bribery Sec. 1. (a)
(2) being a public servant, solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept, either before or after the person becomes appointed, elected, or qualified, any property, except property the person is authorized by law to accept, with intent to control the performance of an act related to the person's employment or function as a public servant;
---IC 35-44-1-2 Official misconduct
Sec. 2. A public servant who knowingly or intentionally:
(2) solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept from an appointee or employee any property other than what the public servant is authorized by law to accept as a condition of continued employment;
---42 IAC 1-5-4 Political Activity (Indiana Code of Ethics)
c. A state employee or special state appointee shall not solicit political contributions at any time from:
1. persons whom the employee or special state appointee knows to have a business relationship with the employee's or the special state appointee's agency;
Given the information discovered by Tom LoBianco, it is reasonable to question the motivation for Tony Bennett’s actions concerning Christel House Academy in September of 2012. Our students, families, communities, and educators deserve to know that educational initiatives, policies, and practices will not be influenced by personal and/or political relationships and any amount of money involved in those relationships. Contributions to campaigns should not function as down payments for future assistance from educational administration.
Why did Tony Bennett make such efforts to alter the grade for one school in particular? What was the nature of Bennett's relationship with Christel House that mandated such an undertaking?
This request is not an indictment of anyone. This request is a request for investigation of the practices of Tony Bennett and his staff during his time as Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Please do not limit the investigation to this particular incident but to all practices during Bennett's administrative period.