TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | The day before he abruptly resigned from his job, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett wrote an impassioned email to two former governors he called "part of my family."
Bennett, Indiana's former superintendent of public instruction, reached out to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to give a spirited defense of his actions while also explaining his reasons for stepping down last week.
Bennett said his life had been a "living hell" after The Associated Press reported that his staff in Indiana changed that state's school grading formula to benefit a top Republican donor's charter school.
"The simple fact is that I cannot allow my family to go through this and what will be more attacks to come," wrote Bennett in a July 31 email from his personal account.
"I cannot allow all our work in Indiana to be compromised. I cannot allow you Governor Daniels, and your legacy to be cheapened," he wrote. "I cannot allow our staff to be victimized and hurt. I cannot allow this to cast a dark shadow over Governor (Rick) Scott and his need to have an education leader who has the credibility to lead. Finally, I cannot allow your work which I consider to be the cornerstone of education reform to be cheapened by this character assassination that will spill over into your work."
The email was released Friday by the Department of Education in response to a public records request.
In the email — which also was sent to the head of a foundation run by Bush — he acknowledges that he had told them before he had notified the chairman of the State Board of Education.
The email does state he had talked to the Scott administration before notifying Daniels and Bush.
Bennett in his email said he came to Florida to help Scott have a "lasting legacy" because he believed that the education model first installed under Bush is "right for American education."
"While I never was so Pollyanna to believe that I would love Governor Scott the way I do you guys, I came here to help him nonetheless," he wrote. "I believed and still do that following the path you guys so bravely and astutely trailed was his ticket to a lasting legacy."
Bush — who gave a speech on education Friday in Chicago while appearing at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council — did not respond for comment about the email. But earlier this week, Bush wrote for The Miami Herald a staunch defense of Bennett where he said that "Florida's students will feel the loss of his leadership the most." Bush contended that Bennett had lost his job because he took on the "political left" and the "political right."