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Is Bennett Florida-bound?

A news blog by the staff of the St. Petersburg Times is reporting that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is "looking to recruit" Tony Bennett, Indiana superintendent of public instruction as the Sunshine State's education commissioner.

The blog posting points to Bennett's legislative success in limiting collective bargaining, establishing tax-funded vouchers for private and parochial school students and in tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

It also notes the difference in leadership styles of the Florida governor, who "goes to great lengths to address hand-selected Republican crowds and seldom strays from his written speeches and talking points" and Bennett, who eagerly wades into unfriendly territory to promote his agenda. The Indiana schools chief, to his credit, doesn't hide from unsupportive audiences.

The search for a new education commissioner in Florida has attracted considerable attention, but some are speculating that Scott is having trouble filling the post because of the way he treated the former commissioner.

Eric J. Smith, the Florida commissioner since 2007, announced his departure in March. He is highly respected in national education circles.

Unlike Indiana, where the top public school official is elected by voters statewide, Florida's school chief is hired by the state board of education, although the governor has great influence through his appointments to the board.

Bennett was elected in November of 2008 to a four-year term that runs through 2012. A Republican, he succeeded Republican Suellen Reed, who chose not to seek a fifth term after Bennett announced he would seek the nomination.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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