The Push to Privatize Education

National Privatization Efforts

Our nation’s public schools are in a very vulnerable place due to efforts from elite and powerful forces that seek to dismantle and defund them. If we do not act to protect our children’s schools, the consequences could be catastrophic – for our families and communities.

What is “Privatization” anyway? Privatization of public schools is about trying to divert public education funds and students into the private sector.

According to former school privatization lobbyist, Charles Siler, the ultimate goal behind this movement is to “To undo public education — not only the institution but also the public funding of schools.”

Who are behind these privatization efforts? Betsy Devos is probably the most recognizable name, but other very wealthy individuals and groups help to push school privatization, such as the Koch Foundation, The Walton Foundation, Americans For Prosperity, American Federation for Children, Goldwater Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been instrumental in creating draft legislation for conservative lawmakers to adopt (often verbatim).

New Hampshire Privatization Forces

New Hampshire has been under constant assault from school privatization forces. Unfortunately, one of their biggest allies happens to be the New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, Frank Edelblut.

Edelblut has used the Department of Education in every way possible to expand privatization efforts, through expanding vouchers, the promotion of for-profit micro-schools (otherwise known as “learning pods”), and programs that focus on education outside of the public school, such as “Learn Everywhere”.

Prior to serving as NH Education Commissioner, Edelblut was a businessman with no experience in education, personal or professionally. None of his seven children ever attended a public school. After challenging Governor Sununu for the GOP gubernatorial nomination (and losing by very small margins), he was appointed to Education chief. His appointment was criticized by many for his lack of qualifications along with his apparent distain for public schools.

NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut at a Free State Project event.

Frank Edelblut has continued to receive ongoing criticism through the years, yet remains in office (appointed by Governor Sununu). Governor Sununu did react after Edelblut attended a forum held by a controversial conservative activist group, saying, “Given this fringe group’s history and support of anti-government actions, the Commissioner’s decision to attend in his official capacity was inappropriate. He has given me his assurances that he will use better discretion going forward.”

However, Edelblut has continued to illustrate his defiance and has continued to take actions that further hurt our public schools, students, and teachers. In May of 2022, protesters lined the sidewalks outside of Oyster River Middle School (where a NH State Board of Education meeting was taking place) in order to express their outrage to an opinion piece Edelblut wrote about family “values systems” being disrupted by educators. In this opinion piece published by Edelblut included a link to a 68-page file with information from what appeared to be related to only 10 complaints.

Edelblut is a favorite among ultra-conservative groups such as Moms for Liberty, pictured left at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum held in March of 2022. This is the same group that offered a $500 bounty for anyone who turns in a teacher who is ultimately found to have violated the divisive concepts law.

 Frank Edelblut doesn’t seem very interested in trying to hide his connections and associations with special interest groups, and even had the Department of Education attend an “Education Freedom Fair” hosted by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in August of 2022 (Americans for Prosperity is a Koch Brothers funded political action group that seeks to dramatically reduce government regulations and taxes).

Edelblut’s ties to those in the Free State project are also troubling. The “Free State Project” is a libertarian group that decided long ago to pick one state to encourage “mass migration” to in order to concentrate their numbers in a single state. “Free Staters”, as often referred to, made national news in their bid to demolish public education in the small town of Croydon, NH

In the spring of 2022, a vocal minority affiliated with the Free State Project voted to reduce the Croydon school budget by 53%, cutting it to $800,000. The motion for this was made by Free Stater Ian Underwood, husband to School Board Chair (and fellow Free Stater) Jody Underwood. If the vote had been successful, families were faced with either largely funding their children’s public education or placing them in small learning pods. Ultimately, residents mobilized in historic proportions to overturn the vote on May 7th, 377 to 2, no thanks to Commissioner Edelblut.

Edelblut also made waves in February of 2022 by co-sponsoring HB 1671, which would have removed Art, Health & Wellness, PE, Engineering, Digital Literacy, and World Languages from the core academic domains. Ultimately, this measure was not only defeated but was amended to add the new core domains of Personal Finance Literacy, and Logic & Rhetoric.

Support Our Schools NH has been one of the leading voices to call for new leadership at the NH Department of Education, and presented Commissioner Edelblut with over 1,000 letters demanding his resignation at a State Board of Education meeting in June 2022. 

New Hampshire Receives an F grade from Network For Public Education

According to a 2022 report put out by Network for Public Education, New Hampshire’s public schools are in jeopardy. According to this report, “Conserving public schools and local control is no longer part of a conservative platform: destroying locally controlled public schools via privatized choice is.” 

In order to grade each state on its resistance to the privatization of public education, they looked at five categories:

  1. Expansion of Privatization
  2. Educational Quality*
  3. Student Rights and Protections
  4. Accountability and Transparency
  5. Safeguards for Taxpayer Dollars

*Educational Quality refers to the quality of non-public school programs, such as those offered through vouchers or charter schools.

New Hampshire was called out specifically as the state with the “least apparent interest in ensuring their students receive a quality education in their privatized alternatives”.