Croydon — New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut donated $1,000 to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense fund in a school choice lawsuit brought by the state Department of Education, a case over which he now could have influence.
Members of the School Board have refused to reveal the identities of the anonymous donors to the $23,000 legal fund, which was established in fall 2015 to defend against the state’s court challenge.
The Department of Education sued to block Croydon’s practice of using public funds to pay tuition to send some of the town’s children to private school. The dispute helped spur legislation, known as the “Croydon bill,” that would make the tuition practice explicitly legal.
The lawsuit, Department of Education vs. Croydon School Board, has been stayed because the pending legislation could make it moot.
Edelblut, who previously had declined to discuss whether he’d financially supported Croydon, disclosed his donation, which was made before he became commissioner, in an email on Wednesday evening to Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky.
Volinsky, a sharp critic of Edelblut’s during the confirmation process for education commissioner, emailed Edelblut on Wednesday morning to ask that he make public whether he had contributed to Croydon and, if he had, explain why he had not disclosed the donation previously.
“I contributed $1,000 to the Croydon legal defense fund,” Edelblut said in reply. “The contribution was made anonymously. I prefer the focus to stay on the cause and not draw attention to myself.”
Edelblut could not immediately be reached on Wednesday night.
“It’s taken far too long to disclose this,” Volinsky said in an interview on Wednesday evening, “and it’s only happened upon my demand. And that’s not how we do government in New Hampshire.”
Volinsky said as education commissioner, Edelblut could be in position to influence the lawsuit, which is overseen by the state Attorney General’s Office.
“The public has a right to know that he was one of Croydon’s financial benefactors in the Croydon lawsuit,” Volinsky said, “and it would have been good of him and the Underwoods” — Ian Underwood and Jody Underwood, the latter being a Croydon School Board member — “who testified on his behalf on Jan. 31, to have revealed his financial relationship to them at that hearing.”
Although Edelblut did not specify to Volinsky when he contributed the money to Croydon’s online fundraising campaign, all anonymous $1,000 donations listed on the School Board’s GoFundMe page are dated at least seven months ago, before Edelblut’s nomination as commissioner. During the same period, Edelblut was mounting an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
That “Croydon bill” has passed the state House and Senate in slightly different versions that must be reconciled before it can be sent to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said he is looking forward to signing it.
Former Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, vetoed a version of the bill last year.
Croydon, with a K-4 public elementary school, has been tuitioning a handful of students out to area schools, including a private Montessori school, using tax dollars.
Those students include two children of the School Board chairwoman, as well as her nephew.
Rob Wolfe can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.