Former opponent Edelblut tapped by Sununu for top education post
CONCORD – As a gubernatorial candidate in the Republican primary last fall, State Rep. Frank Edelblut, R-Wilton, came within 800 votes of snatching the prize from Gov. Chris Sununu.
Now the conservative entrepreneur whose seven children were home-schooled is Sununu’s nominee to head the state Department of Education.
Sununu presented the resignation of incumbent Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry and the nomination of Edelblut to replace her at the opening of his first formal meeting of the Executive Council on Wednesday.
Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas offered to organize the public hearing on Edelblut’s nomination, which will be scheduled prior to any vote by the council confirming him for the top education post in the state.
If confirmed, Edelblut would likely take the Department of Education in a very different direction than Barry, whose support of the Common Core curriculum standards put her at odds with Sununu.
“I have the utmost confidence in Frank’s expertise,” said Sununu. “The guy has done his homework. He understands these very complex education issues at a level of detail that is impressive, and he brings a focus on the consumer."
Edelblut worked as a certified public accountant before starting his own business, Control Solutions International, an auditing consulting firm.
Newly elected Democratic councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord, who served as lead attorney for plaintiffs in many of the lawsuits over the state’s educational funding, questioned Edelblut’s credentials.
“Why would someone who fundamentally doesn’t believe in public education want to be responsible for meeting all the needs of people who rely on public education in this state,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense; it’s not a good nomination. It’s hard to see how he leads an effort to move us forward on competency and accountability when he doesn’t believe in the very systems we’re working with.”
Edelblut called the criticism unfair.
“I’m coming in with the goal of making sure that every student in New Hampshire has the opportunity to reach their full potential, and our public school system has laid down some really good work in terms of envisioning where we need to go, focused principally on personalized education,” he said. "I'm the implementation guy."
Edelblut sees his experience in the business world as a plus.
“One of the things we constantly hear is that students coming out of the school system are not prepared for jobs,” he said, “so who better to help prepare them for those jobs than someone who has been there.”
A strong advocate of school choice, Edelblut sponsored legislation relating to parental rights, stating that “parents have the natural right to control the health, education, and welfare of their children,” which was tabled in the last session.
An education-related bill he sponsored that was signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan permits high school students who are members of the armed forces to wear uniforms at graduation.
The other Democratic councilor on the five-member council, Chris Pappas of Manchester, also expressed reservations about the nomination.
“I’m concerned that he doesn’t have a broad enough perspective on public education in New Hampshire to effectively serve as commissioner,” Pappas said, “but I’m looking forward to hearing what his vision is for the Department of Education.”
Barry has led the department since 2009, and her current term was schedule to expire in March. She notified her staff two weeks ago that she would resign her position as of Jan. 30.
The three Republican councilors indicated their support for Edelblut.
“I think he's going to bring a breath of fresh air here in New Hampshire with regards to the Department of Education,” said North Country Councilor Joe Kenney.
Newly elected councilor Russell Prescott of Kingston said he was comfortable with the nomination, and Councilor David Wheeler of Milford was unequivocal in his support. “We’re both home-schoolers,” he said. “In fact we did some home-school group activities together. His kids and ours are close to the same ages.”
During the campaign, Sununu expressed support for state funding of full-time kindergarten, which Edelblut opposed.
“We don’t agree on every last detail,” said Sununu, “but we’ll work together to find solutions for the state. He’s going to make sure we really take action.”