CONCORD, NH — This week, Sununu’s hand-picked Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut took the witness stand in the ConVal school district lawsuit against the State of New Hampshire.
ConVal — along with a number of other New Hampshire school districts who are plaintiffs in the case — have claimed the state has failed to meet its obligation to provide and fund a constitutionally adequate education for every child. In the hearing, Edelblut repeatedly said that the responsibility to define a constitutionally adequate education was the responsibility of the state legislature, denying he or his office had a role in that charge.
This prompted the judge in the case to push back on the commissioner, saying “I imagine the legislature wanted you to figure it out.”
Despite Edelblut’s claim he has no role in defining what constitutes an adequate education, his actions during his tenure in office imply he has a very clear idea.
Commissioner Edelblut’s office has waged a war on New Hampshire public schools, and he himself has long-standing associations to members of the Free State Project who defunded the Croydon School District. He has requested to double the state's unpopular voucher scheme to $30 million a year and lodged repeated attacks on New Hampshire teachers, accusing them of bias.
In response to the coverage, NHDP Chair Ray Buckley released the following statement: “Frank Edelblut is a conservative ideologue with no education experience looking to flip his current position into a run for higher office as soon as he can. It makes sense he would have no idea what would constitute an adequate education in New Hampshire, because the question has likely never once crossed his mind.”
During questioning by the plantiffs' lead attorney, Manchester lawyer Michael Tierney, Edelblut said he wasn't fully aware of what goes into an adequate education. At one point, Tierney asked whether buildings are needed to provide an adequate education. Edelblut said he has not made that determination.
"For the Commissioner to say that he has never done any analysis of what it actually costs to educate a student in New Hampshire, and to admit that his department has never studied the issue, is pretty damning," Zack Sheehan, executive director of the New Hampshire School Funding Fairness Project, said later in a statement.
During more than an hour of questioning in Rockingham County Superior Court, Edelblut declined to outline which education services he believes the state is required to uphold in order to meet the adequacy standard. That standard was set by the state Supreme Court in the 1992 Claremont I decision, in which the court held that the constitution “imposes a duty on the State to provide a constitutionally adequate education to every educable child in the public schools in New Hampshire and to guarantee adequate funding.”
NH Business Review: At school-funding trial, commissioner declines to define an adequate education
Edelblut has never worked in a school as either a teacher, principal, superintendent or administrator. Nor has he served on a school board or belonged to a parent-teacher association. While he is a product of public schools, his seven children were all home-schooled.
Despite his lack of experience with public education, Edelblut holds strong views on both the philosophy and provision of education. His primary educational affiliation has been with Patrick Henry College of Purcellville, Virginia, a self-described “conservative Christian college,” which exists for “Christ and Liberty.”