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Education Commissioner Edelblut admits donating to Croydon school suit legal fund

  • Frank Edelblut speaks during a Jan. 31 public hearing at the State House in Concord on his nomination to lead the state’s education department. AP

  • Frank Edelblut at the Monitor editorial board August 16, 2016. GEOFF FORESTER



Monitor staff
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut anonymously contributed $1,000 to help finance a school board’s legal battle against the department he now leads, he said Wednesday.

The revelation comes days after the Valley News reported Edelblut declined multiple times to answer whether he was one of the unnamed donors to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense fund. Edelblut disclosed the contribution Wednesday in response to questions from Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Concord Democrat.

“The contribution was made anonymously,” Edelblut wrote in an email to all five councilors, which he shared with the Monitor. “I prefer the focus to stay on the cause and not draw attention to myself.”

Croydon has been at the center of a protracted court battle since the school board used taxpayer money to send certain students to a local Montessori school. The state sued and won in superior court, but the school board appealed. A case before the state Supreme Court is pending the outcome of a bill this session, which would let districts use taxpayer money to pay private school tuition.

Volinsky said Edelblut should have disclosed the contribution when he was under consideration for education commissioner earlier this year.

“It shows a lack of judgment and understanding how government should work in terms of openness and transparency,” Volinsky said. “I intend to raise that with the other councilors and the governor.”

Edelblut’s nomination was approved by the council on a 3-2 party-line vote last month, but he is expected to come up for renomination later this month.

The Republican has been a vocal supporter of the Croydon School Board’s decision. During his recent two-year term in the House, Edelblut signed onto legislation to let some school districts use taxpayer money to send students to private school – a proposal known as the “Croydon bill.”

The Croydon School Board launched a fund in 2015 to finance its legal defense against the state and has raised more than $23,000 through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. More than half that money has come from anonymous sources. Jody Underwood, a board member and administrator of the GoFundMe page, declined requests from the Valley News to identify those donors.

“These are private citizens who requested to remain anonymous,” she told the Valley News.

Edelblut refused to answer multiple inquiries from the Valley News about whether he was one of the fund’s anonymous contributors, including once in person.

It’s not clear when Edelblut made the donation; he doesn’t say in the email. The most recent $1,000 anonymous contribution to the GoFundMe page was seven months ago.

Edelblut home-schooled his seven children and has been an advocate for school choice. He ran for governor last year, but narrowly lost the Republican primary to now-Gov. Chris Sununu. Edelblut’s nomination as education commissioner drew criticism because he lacks a professional background in public education. He started and ran his own audit and risk management business until selling it in 2009. His appointment earned praise from conservatives who oppose the Common Core standards and support more parental involvement in education.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)