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More on Frank Edelblut’s Appointment

March 27, 2017

Over the weekend I was out of town and unable to offer an extended reaction to Rob Wolfe’s excellent Valley News article on Frank Edelblut. Let me begin with a recap of the facts to date:

  • Last year, after two full years of disputes over the issue of their tuition practices, the Croydon School Board was sued by the State Department of Education for violating state laws that prohibit the use of public funds to send children to private schools. As a result of their “heroic” efforts to institute school choice in the face of State Departments, Croydon became the darling of conservative publications and “reform” publications like The 74.
  • To fund the costs of their suit, Croydon Board members raised funds on line, and one of their donors was a wealthy but relatively unknown conservative State legislator, Frank Edelblut.
  • In response to this suit, the NH Legislature passed a bill enabling districts like Croydon, that do not have public schools that serve children at all grade levels, to tuition their children to private schools. Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut was one the legislators who offered full support for the bill.
  • Then Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed the bill and it died.
  • Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut ran for governor against the establishment candidate, Chris Sununu, and was narrowly defeated in the primary.
  • Once elected as Governor, Chris Sununu nominated Frank Edelblut to become Commissioner of Education, an appointment that required approval by the five-member Executive Council.
  • The five-member council approved of Mr. Edelblut’s appointment by a 3-2 vote along party lines.
  • During the course of the approval process, the Valley News in Lebanon, NH, sought information on the donors to the Croydon Board, who initially pushed back on the basis that the names of the donors to a public school was not public. When that assertion was contested, Mr. Edelblut confirmed to the Valley News and to one of the Democratic Party members protesting his appointment that he donated $1,000 to support Croydon’s suit against the State Department of Education.
  • Following the appointment of Mr. Edelblut last week, the Valley News received copies of email correspondence between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut.

Which brings us to the content to those emails, which was the focal point of Saturday’s Valley News article. Two sections of the article regarding the exchange of emails between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut were particularly noteworthy:

Emails obtained this week by the Valley News through records requests for contacts between Edelblut and members of the Croydon School Board indicate that he and Jody Underwood corresponded frequently in the past year or so, including when Edelblut was running for governor.

Jody Underwood in late 2016 emailed back and forth with Edelblut, discussing amendments to the proposed legislation, which eventually passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.

Sununu, who was elected in November and also supported the Croydon bill last year, said he looks forward to signing the latest iteration, which already has passed both chambers but requires reconciliation before reaching his desk.

Last March, Underwood invited Edelblut to a public forum in Croydon to discuss a judge’s decision to block the School Board from sending students to the private Newport Montessori School using public money.

Three of those children are related to the sitting chairwoman, Angi Beaulieu.

WAIT! The Chairman of a local school board has adopted a budget that effectively pays her children’s tuition to a private school and this is fully supported by the “choice” movement. In effect, the taxpayers in the small town of Croydon are paying roughly $21,000 (@ $7,000/year) for the children of the board chairman to attend a private school.

The other section of the article that I found problematic was this:

Early last month, when Edelblut had been nominated but not yet confirmed as commissioner, Underwood emailed him to ask whether she should respond to a Valley News request for comment for a story about him and Betsy DeVos.

At the time, the nomination of Edelblut, a business executive who had home-schooled his children, spurred comparisons to that of DeVos, a conservative megadonor chosen as secretary of education by President Donald Trump.

The correspondence continued after Edelblut was confirmed, with Underwood reaching out to schedule meetings, suggest regulatory changes and, in one instance, submit a proposal for an “accountability” policy that questions the value of tenure for teachers.

“In all of this, there need to be consequences for failure,” the six-page treatise written by Jody Underwood reads. “If there are not, then there is no accountability. As far as I can tell, tenure has no accountability.

“Perhaps after teachers have proven themselves consistently effective over a course of years they can have some level of job security (which they would, just by being effective). But to gain tenure after three years of teaching with no further requirements just seems too easy. Why does tenure exist in the first place? Is it a solution to a problem that no longer exists? Or does it still solve an existing problem? If so, are there other solutions that would give what we want (job security for good teachers) without also giving what we don’t want (job security for poor teachers)?”

This section was of particular interest to me since I sent a copy of the Open Letter to Mr. Edelblut, which was published in the Valley News, directly to his State Department e-mail and have heard nothing from him. It IS possible that my earlier correspondence to the Executive Council questioning his qualifications was a factor in his reluctance to correspond with me… but it may be that the advice I offered contradicted his views on public education.

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