Opinion: Our public school system is in danger


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Published: 04-01-2024 4:24 PM

Gib West lives in Concord.

Commissioner Edelblut’s complete lack of transparency in addressing critical issues of New Hampshire’s public education system continues. The theme of his tenure is prominent in many conversations throughout the community. Whether these conversations are focused on the cost of an adequate education; the revision of our public schools’ minimum standards; or the required audits of the state’s education freedom accounts, Edelblut ignores his responsibility to act in the best interest of all rather than the interest of the very few.

On the issue of funding an adequate education, Edelblut has time and again stated some version of, “the amount of funds that are provided to the district public school is determined by the Legislature so I don’t have responsibility for determining what an adequate education is.” (NHPR) At no time has he advocated for raising the level of state aid to fund our public schools. Over the past three years, New Hampshire’s education freedom accounts program, which Edelblut enthusiastically promotes, has expended $45 million from taxpayers that at the most have supported only 2% of our student population at any given time.

More recently, Edelblut spent $75,000 to have expert consultants draft a revision to the state’s minimum standards for public schools. Since this work was completed, Edelblut has taken it upon himself to revise these standards to meet his vision of public education for the next decade. Many have expressed grave concerns about Edelblut’s decision to ignore not only the consultants he hired but all the input from the public. This includes input from educators, whom he excluded from the original process but who took it upon themselves to analyze the rules and work with the consultant to come up with their final proposal.

Nicole Heimarck, executive director at Reaching Higher NH, said, “The [New Hampshire Education Department’s] proposed overhaul of the minimum standards is the most concerning one we’ve seen to date. Despite years of public outcry and recommendations, the NHED doubled down on some of the most controversial changes, forging ahead on a path of undermining public schools and eviscerating local control.”

Please note, on April 3, the state board will hold a public hearing during which members of the public can express their opinions on the revisions.

On March 21, the Concord Monitor reported that Edelblut is restricting access to data regarding the education freedom accounts program. House Bill 1135 requires a performance audit of the Department of Education’s education freedom account program. Edelblut’s position is that “the data is held by a private contractor, not the state, and thus can’t be turned over to be audited.” I can’t believe that the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a private contractor that has been paid with public funds to do work for the public, would say that the data can’t be turned over to the legislative budget assistant who is managing the audit.

In fact, the contract language indicates that the Children’s Scholarship Fund “provide data, documentation, and reports to the Department within deadlines determined by the Department in the format designated by the Department.” So Edelblut does have the legal authority to gather and submit this information, but instead he told the contractor not to provide it. Sen. Becky Whitley stated, “It takes my breath away a little bit that … our taxpayers are spending millions and millions and millions of dollars on a program that’s going to a private organization, and it’s a complete black box.”

Commissioner Edelblut’s extraordinary lack of transparency and his unwillingness to honestly serve the greater goal of providing an excellent education for all of New Hampshire’s students is being called into question by our legislators, educators, parents, and the public. He is not fulfilling his role. His actions and statements reveal a man who believes that only he knows what is best.

While Governor Sununu, his boss, may appreciate his efforts, do the rest of us? As Abraham Lincoln said, “The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.”