CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A businessman who homeschooled his children and has no professional background in public education is officially New Hampshire's next education commissioner.
The Republican-led Executive Council voted along party lines Wednesday to confirm Frank Edelblut, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's pick to oversee the state's public schools. Edelblut's nomination sparked fierce public debate, mirroring the outcry over President Donald Trump's nomination of school choice advocate and wealthy GOP donor Betsy DeVos to lead the federal education department.
Edelblut's backers say his business background will be an asset to the department and that he'll strengthen both traditional public schools and alternative options. But critics charge he is unqualified for the job and may undermine public education.
"I see this as an individual that lacks the experience and qualifications, but comes with a long list of political liabilities," Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas said.
Edelblut says he has no intention of undermining schools, and will simply implement policies set by the Board of Education and lawmakers.
"We all have the same goal, which is really making sure that the New Hampshire school system is the best that it can be for our students," Edelblut said after the vote.
As a candidate for governor last fall, he championed more "personalized learning" and, as a legislator, he supported allowing some towns to use tax dollars to send students to private schools. He's served as a board member of a college that espouses a Biblical world view and declined to say whether he'll continue to engage in political activities as commissioner.
Republican councilors who backed him said they understand the public's concerns but believe Edelblut is the right man for the job.
"We're going to hold him accountable, we're going to make sure he doesn't get off the track, that he's there for one purpose, to make the public education system the best it can be and also look at other alternative ways to educate our kids," Republican Councilor Joe Kenney said. "If he succeeds, we all succeed. If he fails, we all fail."
The confirmation vote came a day after the state board told Sununu it shared the public's concerns about Edelblut's qualifications. State law says the education commissioner "shall be qualified to hold their positions by reason of education and experience."
"He's never been on a board, he's never attended a parent meeting in schools. . . how does he have this wealth of experience with public education that he's going to bring to the rest of the state?" board member Cindy Chagnon asked Sununu at a Tuesday meeting. "It seems like there's a disconnect."
Sununu has defended Edelblut as an innovative thinker and a skilled businessman who is well-versed in education policy and will offer teachers and schools greater flexibility. He's called Edelblut's background homeschooling his children an asset, because he understands alternative methods of education.
"There's this idea that public education's going to be blown up and drastically changed," Sununu told the state Board of Education the day before the vote. "No. I think Frank will be the first one to say we have a great foundation here, a great foundation. It's just taking that foundation and moving onto the next levels."
This story has been corrected to show the executive council confirmed Frank Edelblut Wednesday, not Thursday.