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Edelblut confirmed as NH education commissioner

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 15. 2017 10:37AM
NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was confirmed by a 3-2 vote of the Executive Council on Feb. 15, 2017. (UNION LEADER file photo)

CONCORD — The Executive Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to confirm former state Rep. Frank Edelblut, a businessman and Republican who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, as commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.

The vote came down along party lines. Republicans David Wheeler of Milford, Russell Prescott of Kingston, and Joseph Kenney of Union voted in favor of Edelblut. Democrats Chris Pappas of Manchester and Andru Volinsky of Concord opposed the nominee.

Pappas and Volinsky continued to criticize Edelblut, a conservative advocate for school choice, for a lack of experience in public education. They pointed to a letter from the state Board of Education chairman, Tom Raffio, as evidence of a lack of confidence in Edelblut.

The letter Raffio sent to Sununu on Tuesday includes 57 pages of emails and communications from residents concerned with the nomination, which the chairman said was mostly parents opposed to Edelblut. The board heard from one supporter, he said.

“After discussion with the public today and among board members, we have to say, Governor, that we share the public’s concerns about Mr. Edelblut’s qualifications for the role of New Hampshire Education Commissioner,” Raffio concluded.

“The high level of concern parents have voiced about this nomination that is so important to them puts the State Board of Education on notice. We owe parents the Board’s full commitment to our statutory responsibility as the board of directors of New Hampshire public education. We are prepared for that role and will exercise it with full transparency.”

Pappas argued that Edelblut, who home-schooled his seven children, lacks professional experience in education while coming to the job with “political liabilities.” He noted Edelblut’s website for his gubernatorial campaign is still up. He said Edelblut opposed initiatives to support gay, lesbian, and transgender students, and previously opposed full-day kindergarten.

“He’s taken a number of positions that are way outside the mainstream,” he said. “He is unfit for this job.”

Sununu has said Edelblut brings managerial experience and a fresh focus on public education. Edelblut succeeds Virginia Barry. He takes the job, which has a salary of $93,759, immediately.

The three councilors supporting the new commissioner said Edelblut would work closely with the governor, the Board of Education, and schools across the state.

“This person is accountable to the state Board of Education,” Prescott said.

Kenney added, “We will be watching. We’re going to hold him accountable.”

Sununu, appearing with Edelblut after the vote, said the commissioner would help break down some federal mandates that are not necessarily in the state’s interest, such as flexibility for use of funds. Edelblut would focus on preserving local control while expanding opportunities statewide for students, he said.

“I have no doubt what an outstanding job Frank is going to do with that department,” Sununu said. “He brings just a level of forethought, innovation, implementation, understanding of the finances, understanding of the department, the legislative boundaries, a real focus on local control, allowing teachers to have flexiblity in their own classroom.”

Edelblut said Raffio, the state school board chairman, had already reached out to him to set up a meeting to discuss working together for the best of education.

Shannon McGinley, a board member of Cornerstone Action, applauded the confirmation, calling Edelblut committed to “fostering academic excellence for New Hampshire’s children.”

In a statement, she said the public hearing on the nomination veered from education to Edelblut’s religious beliefs, which have no bearing on the job in question.

“He understands that children are ill-served by a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” McGinley said in a statement. “He trusts parents to make wise decisions regarding their children’s education. He trusts local boards and teachers more than the federal government when it comes to making curriculum choices. All of this, plus his extensive administrative experience, make him an excellent choice for Education Commissioner.”

Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of the advocacy group Granite State Progress, cited Raffio’s letter as he labeled Edelblut “blatantly unqualified” to lead the Department of Education.

“Edelblut has no experience with public schools, which the majority of our state’s children attend,” she said after the vote.

Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, accused councilors Kenney and Prescott of ignoring constituents’ concerns in order to confirm Edelblut “in a blindly political move.”

“It’s shameful that Governor Sununu didn’t consult the Board of Education before he made the pick,” Buckley said. “Instead, he followed the Trump model by appointing an unqualified businessman rather than looking out for the future of New Hampshire.”

During an earlier meeting, Volinsky pointed out that the governor had not met with the Board of Education for a review of the nominee, per a requirement. Sununu had conferred with the chairman, but not the board, so the confirmation vote was delayed.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the new commissioner would help improve education for all children, including expansion of school choice.

Morse said that Edelblut’s leadership would “reinforce the effective public education system that has always been attractive to families and students in our state. I look forward to working with him to do even more to create a strong public education that centers on opportunities for our students and helping them to be prepared with the skills they need to succeed in the future.”

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