- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Gov. Chris Sununu named a school choice advocate who homeschooled his children as his pick Wednesday to lead New Hampshire’s education department.

Education commissioner nominee Frank Edelblut is a former state representative and one of Sununu’s former rivals for the Republican nomination for governor.

Edelblut has made a career in business, starting his own consulting company and working in venture capital, and has never worked professionally in public education. He and his wife homeschooled their seven children, and he has advocated allowing towns to spend taxpayer dollars on non-public schools and limiting the federal government’s involvement in classrooms.

“That’s the type of opportunity this state needs - someone who’s kind of taken a different path, who understands the values, the pros and cons of alternative education,” Sununu said.

Edelblut, 53, will face questions in a public hearing and must be approved by the five-member, Republican-controlled Executive Council. If appointed, he’d succeed Commissioner Virginia Barry, who has served since 2009.

Democrats say Edelblut is unqualified for the job. But Sununu says Edelblut’s focus on education as a one-term legislator, his business background and his fluency in education policy make him a strong choice.

“The guy has done his homework,” Sununu said.

Edelblut said his goal is to move the state toward more “personalized” education for students, meaning they could earn credits in traditional classroom settings, through online courses or vocational settings. Such a method would better allow students to learn at their own pace. Edelblut says he’ll combine his business background with the educational expertise of people at the department to ensure students are graduating with workforce-ready skills.

“I would hope that those who are critical of me could look beyond the fact that I don’t have a Ph. D in education, and they would see that I do have a track record of success in the business world so I know the skills that are needed there,” Edelblut said. “I know what the kids need to be successful.”

The education commissioner oversees K-12 public education, including charter schools, applies for federal grants and monitors implementation of state and federal standards and rules, such as standardized testing and services for students with disabilities. The department’s annual budget is roughly $1.3 billion.

As a legislator, Edelblut sponsored legislation to allow towns with no public school to use taxpayer funds to send students to a public or private school of their choice. Former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed it. He opposes the Common Core State Standards, which most New Hampshire districts follow.

Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky says Edelblut is not the right fit for the job.

“It’s a question of whether the gentleman is competent for the job,” he said. “It’s highly technical and has traditionally been filled by very experienced, very well-educated individuals, and this is a stark departure from that approach.”

Edelblut attended public schools and has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in theological studies. He’s worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Niagara Corporation and his own business, Control Solutions International.

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