With Republicans controlling the Executive Council, Gov. Chris Sununu's pick to lead the New Hampshire Department of Education, former gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut is expected to win confirmation. But Democrats pushed Edelblut on his background – he has no professional experience in education and homeschooled all seven of his children - and core beliefs.
The council chamber was packed at Edelblut's confirmation hearing Tuesday. It was full of supporters of Edelblut, many wearing yellow scarfs symbolizing school choice. It was also full of opponents who question his resume and his commitment to traditional public education. Throughout his testimony Edelblut cast himself as a humble man, eager to implement – not set -- New Hampshire’s education policy.
“I get that people are nervous. A shift in leadership is always difficult. I hope all of the energy here today can be channeled into productive activity that will allow our educational system to meet the 21st century needs of our communities.”
"What I'd like to do is make sure we have a common set of facts on which to have our dialog," said District 2 Councilor, Andru Volinsky, who is new to the council, but not to education fights. Volinsky was lead lawyer the Claremont school funding suit, and he brought a trial lawyer’s approach to his questioning of Edelblut, complete with a large poster headlined “Lack of Qualifications for Education Commissioner”
“I just want to tick through some points and if I’m wrong want you to correct me. You do not have undegraduate preparation in an education school or a program of education. Is that correct?
“You don’t have graduate preparation in an education school or program of education?”
You have never taught as a public school teacher?
“I have taught as a homeschool teacher”
Do you equate teacher with being the teacher in a public school?
“I do not.”
Volinsky was also pointed when he asked Edelblut about his religious beliefs and how they might affect his job. Edelblut served on the board of the Patrick Henry College foundation. Patrick Henry College teaches a biblical worldview, that treats the bible as infallible.
“Do you subscribe to this such that the science teachers need to worry about whether you will require creationism to be taught alongside evolution?” asked Volinsky.
Edelblut didn’t say if he believed in creationism. But did suggest it wouldn’t be relevant to doing his job.
“I will not have jurisdiction or responsibility for the development of curricula. That, I believe, belongs in the domain of the science teachers and the local school boards, and I will tell you that history will tell us that when politicians and politics gets involved in defining scientific orthodoxy, that had not turned out well historically.”
“My point exactly, Mr. Edelblut.”
Republicans on the council were put off by the tenor of such questioning. David Wheeler remarked the hearing was looking like “a dog and pony show.” Russ Prescott called it “inappropriate” and asked Volinsky to speed up. But Prescott, who’s expressed support for Edelblut, didn’t shy away from asking blunt questions himself.
“Wlll you embarrass yourself or us or the state of New Hampshire?”
Edelblut promised to work hard, pointed to his record as a lawmaker and a businessman, and gave this answer.
“I will not only not embarrass myself, but I will not embarrass you and I will not embarrass the state because I know how to do the hard work in order to make sure that I am effective and know what I am doing, so that is what I can assure you.”
Edelblut told the council making sure kids get the education they deserve would be his complete focus. But he didn't rule out returning to elective politics prior to serving out a full term and declined to say he'd avoid of political activity, like attending republican party events or endorsing candidates while commissioner.
“I can’t say that."
The council could vote of Frank Edelblut’s nomination as soon as today.