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In Background and Outlook, Edelblut an Unconventional Pick for N.H.'s Top Education Post

Michael Brindley for NHPR

It’s been a busy year for Frank Edelblut. First, he rose from political unknown to near-upset in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Now, he’s poised to become the state’s next education commissioner. 

Edelblut’s background and philosophy would mark a significant break from his recent predecessors in that job.

That shouldn't be a total shock. After all, Edelblut’s campaign for governor was full of unconventional policy proposals, many of which had to do with public education.

“I think what we have to recognize is that our education system is at a perfect storm moment, that it needs to shift gears and move into the 21st century.”

That’s from an interview Edelblut gave last summer. He did not respond to an interview request for this story.

In his campaign for governor, Edelblut outlined a clear vision for New Hampshire schools that focuses on what he calls personalized education. In a nutshell: more choices for families, more flexibility for schools, and less oversight from state and federal agencies.

Edelblut opposes the Common Core standards in place in most New Hampshire school districts. He supports charter schools, and thinks all major decisions about education quality and funding should be left to individual districts.

All told, Edelblut’s vision would be a whole-sale rethinking of public education in New Hampshire.

“I’m not the initiator of this," he said. "We’ve already got the legislative structure in place; we’ve got the education rules in places that create the vision for this future, so I’m really the implementation guy.”

If confirmed as commissioner, Edelblut would mark a stark break from previous heads of the state education department.

First, there’s his personal background.

Edelblut spent most of his career as an accountant, auditor and venture capitalist.

And while he’s a product of public schools himself, he and his wife decided to homeschool their seven children.

In his fifties, Edelblut earned a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies.

Since 2009, Edelblut has served on the board of the Patrick Henry College Foundation. An evangelical Christian college in Virginia, Patrick Henry has a stated mission to instill students with biblical values for top government positions.

Democrats have been quick to criticize Edelblut’s lack of experience with public schools. But others see his time outside the system as an asset.

“I think it’s going to take a business guy to get this done. And that’s the part I’m excited about," said Fred Bramante, former chair of the state board of education and an advocate for competency-based learning.

And it not’s just Edelblut’s resume that he likes -- he says Edelblut’s philosophy regarding public education, especially when it comes to encouraging more experimentation, makes him the right man for the moment.

“We are on the verge of an education revolution, the likes of which this country has never seen. And I am confident that that’s the direction he wants to go in," said Bramante.

Given his recent politicking, Edelblut could be a more controversial pick for commissioner than usual. Most commissioners come up through the education ranks, not fresh off the campaign trail.

But Nick Donohue, a former state education commissioner, says that may have been what Gov. Chris Sununu had in mind when he nominated Edelblut.

“All the commissioners I’ve known in this region and around the country, they were picked because their governors think they have something to say about the topic," said Donohue.

We’ll hear more about what Edelblut has to say on education when he goes before the Executive Council for his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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