Tony Bennett on testing private school “voucher” students in Florida


In this lengthy exit interview with the Indianapolis Star, new Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett adds to a simmering debate, sparked last month by Gov. Rick Scott, about whether students using vouchers and tax credit scholarships to attend private schools in Florida should be required to take the same standardized tests as their public school counterparts.

By law, tax credit scholarship students in Florida are required to take a nationally norm-referenced test approved by the state Department of Education. But Bennett suggests that’s not enough:

“I do believe we should assess all students who get state money. I believe that in my heart. I keep having people asking me why I believe that in Florida. For voucher schools, I’ve been asked why can’t we accept just a nationally-normed test? But if IPS said let me choose a test and let me choose a performance level to determine if its schools were any good or not, would I accept that? No. So why should I buy that from them? What makes them more creditable than IPS?”

Bennett was also asked if there’s anything about expanding school choice that he fears could “in any way threaten what’s good about the traditional public school system.” His response:

“No. I think it will enhance it. It never worries me because I believe good schools will flourish regardless, whether they are public, private or charter. I believe it will force schools to get better. I just believe that. It’s never kept me up at night. I just believe in the force that the market creates. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen (Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Eugene) White make some pretty innovative changes. I maintain he wouldn’t have done those things.”

Avatar photo

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