My Turn: What is Sununu doing to New Hampshire schools?

For the Monitor
Published: 3/28/2019 12:10:20 AM

Shortly after taking office, Gov. Chris Sununu appointed Frank Edelblut, a non-educator, as commissioner of Education. Edelblut’s appointment by Sununu was initially tabled and was later confirmed on a partisan vote of 3-2 by the five-member Executive Council after a councilor raised concerns about Edelblut’s anonymous contribution to a select board involved in a legal battle against the N.H. Board of Education.

Edeblut does not have experience as an educator. Before becoming commissioner, he home-schooled his seven children and served on the board of trustees of the Patrick Henry College Foundation.

The Patrick Henry College student handbook requires students to believe a strict laundry list of extreme conservative ideas. For example, the handbook says that teachers will teach that creation was completed in six 24-hour days. The handbook goes on to say that other theories will be taught but “in the end, (they will) teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data.” The handbook goes on to detail extreme religious views on homosexuality and women. During a WMUR debate, Edelblut referred to climate change as an ideology and says he’s not sure if humans have any role in causing the crisis.

Edelblut makes regular visits to fringe groups that make no secret of their dislike of public education as we know it.

Last June, he visited the Rochester 912 group. Edleblut told stories of how a middle school student embarrassed her public school teacher, how a student leader used improper English and how public schools fail to meet their own standards. During the visit, Edelblut also participated in a video conference with federal prisoner Jerry DeLemus. During sentencing, a federal judge called DeLemus a “bully vigilante” after organizing armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. “That was kind of cool,” Edelblut commented.

That’s our state’s top educator.

Since becoming commissioner, Edelblut has 1) criticized the state Board of Education for opposing a school voucher bill, and 2) supported “Learn Everywhere,” an initiative that would allow students to receive credit for programs that are not supervised by educators. Educators say it will exacerbate inequities and undercut the entire system.

Why did Edelblut try so hard to win approval of Senate Bill 193, the school voucher program? Why does he promote “Learn Everywhere”?

Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council are both members of the State Policy Network, which works to implement their agenda on the state level. ALEC provides model legislation for state legislators to cut-and-paste for their own legislatures. Many of those model bills are now law across the United States. AFP-NH named Edelblut “conservative of the year” after he ran for governor in 2016. 

Two of the ALEC website’s “key points” for education include promoting vouchers, “separat(ing) the concept of public education from the monopolistic delivery system and embrac(ing) the 21st-century methods of connecting students with learning experiences.” 

SB 193, the school voucher bill, failed by a small margin last year – even though supporters donned golden scarves.

This year’s push is “Learn Everywhere,” which is currently under discussion by the state Board of Education.

Instead of working to improve our public school system, Edelblut works to undermine it with vouchers and back-door graduation credit that devalues public school diplomas.

What will happen when only the wealthy can afford an education? That’s not the New Hampshire that our Founders envisioned or that most of us value.

Public schools offer children a refuge from an opioid epidemic and homelessness. They offer opportunities for every child to achieve their dreams. They are not perfect, but they are always improving. We must continue to work to make them better and support our educators.

(Mindi Messmer is an environmental scientist and former state representative from Rye.)




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