Former Trump staffer one step closer to leading Iowa schools

Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow speaks during a March 26 Iowa Senate subcommittee. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

March 26, 2024

McKenzie Snow’s critics note she has never taught inside an American classroom and that her only degree is in political science; however, some prominent education officials in Iowa believe she is qualified to lead the Iowa Department of Education.

The Iowa Senate held a subcommittee on Snow’s confirmation as director of the Iowa Department of Education on Tuesday, in which supporters and detractors shared their thoughts on Snow. A former Trump administration staffer, Snow was appointed to the position by Gov. Kim Reynolds in June.

Dr. Ian Roberts, the superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa’s largest school system, spoke in favor of appointing Snow. He recalled her first visit to his district’s facilities in August.

“That was her first visit—and I understand with how busy her schedule is—but that was not her last visit,” Roberts said. “She has since visited a number of our schools and during our conversations, I have been incredibly impressed by how she has shown up.”

Roberts said three things about Snow stood out to him: her spirit of collaboration on how to find the best way to meet the needs of students, she anchors her conversations around reliable data, and she understands instructional code.

“I believe the state of Iowa is in great hands by Director Snow leading and being at the helm,” he said.

Other notable speakers who spoke in favor of Snow included DMAAC President Rob Denson, Iowa State School Board President John Robbins, Gov. Reynolds’ Chief of Staff Taryn Frideres, a rural Eastern Iowa superintendent of multiple districts, the dean of Education at the University of Iowa, and Patty Alexander, a veteran educator and Moms for Liberty member.

Still, Reynolds’ decision to select Snow had been under scrutiny since last summer. Snow’s degree is in political science, and her only teaching experience was a year as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in South Africa.

During the subcommittee, Snow’s detractors repeatedly dinged her over her lack of actual classroom experience.

Ryan Condon, an Iowa House candidate from Nevada, noted he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and he works for the Iowa Health and Human Services Department, but that does not qualify him to run the department.

“Every superintendent that has come up here, you know what experience they’ve had? Teaching. You have none, I’m sorry,” Condon said. “Even McDonald’s, the district manager has got to work the fryer; you haven’t even entered the kitchen.”

Dr. Connie Maxson, a retired educator who has worked for the Iowa Department of Education, an Area Education Agency, and various public schools, also criticized Snow’s lack of experience.

“I hope you have all done your research on Ms. Snow’s resume and background—an automatic ‘no’ vote should be expected,” said Maxson, who went on to cite a section of Iowa Code that lists qualifications for Iowa education directors. 

“[The code] states that the director of the department of education shall possess a background in education and administrative experience. I believe policy is very important, however, policy doesn’t trump actual experience in implementation of policy.”

Snow previously worked for two conservative think tanks that promote using taxpayer funds to fund private school scholarships under the mantra of “school choice.”

Snow is also a former Trump administration official who worked directly with billionaire Betsy DeVos, who has used her family’s wealth to fuel the rapid expansion of taxpayer-funded private school scholarships, including here in Iowa.

Snow’s last position before she moved to Iowa was as deputy secretary of Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia under Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose exploitation of the education culture wars was emulated by Reynolds to pass a slew of bills aimed at reshaping public education in Iowa while also subsidizing private school education.

Republican Senators Ken Roozenboom of Oskaloosa and Jeff Taylor of Sioux Center signed off on advancing Snow’s nomination to the full Senate Education Committee, while Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) declined to do so.

Quirmbach repeatedly tried to get Snow to answer a question about whether she would support annual pay increases for teachers. Snow would only say that she supports Gov. Reynolds’ pay raise proposal and said it is up to the legislature to decide on that matter.

“I am afraid I am not able to sign today,” Quirmbach said. “I think that our teachers, our parents, our students in Iowa public education need to have a greater degree of confidence in the experience of our leaders in the department of education.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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