Former Trump staffer officially in charge of Iowa’s public schools

Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow (official portrait)

By Ty Rushing

April 2, 2024

A former Trump administration official and advocate for using public funds for private school scholarships officially has Iowa’s top education job.

The Iowa Senate confirmed McKenzie Snow’s appointment as director of the Iowa Department of Education in a 34-15 vote on Tuesday. Critics have questioned Snow’s credentials as she has never taught in an American classroom and holds no teaching licenses. 

“McKenzie Snow is a polite, articulate, intelligent individual. Unfortunately though, she lacks the experience, training, and leadership qualities to serve as the director of the Iowa Department of Education,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames).

Quirmbach, a college professor, noted most of the previous position holders—Brad Buck, Ann Lebo, and Ryan Wise—started off as classroom teachers and worked their way up the administrative ladder.

“Clealrly Ms. Snow’s experience and training are nowhere near the levels Iowa has come to expect. No wonder so many teachers and administrators oppose her,” Quirmbach said referring to letters he and others Senators have recieved.

Sen. Molly Donahue, a Democrat representing Cedar Rapids who works as a special education teacher in her community, said a director should be “well-versed in all aspects of the educational process” and Snow is not.

“McKenzie Snow has her talents, but they are based in policy,” Donahue said. “She would be a fantastic addition to the Republican staff right here at the Capitol or even as a lobbyist, but she is in way over her head as director and lead of the Department of Education.”

Other criticisms leveled at Snow by Democratic Senators were that she only has a bachelor’s degree in political science, never stays at one job for a long time, and that her current qualifications wouldn’t allow her to be a classroom teacher, school administrator, or to fill most Area Education Agency positions.

“It was stated that McKenzie does not qualify for any of those roles. That may be, but she is not applying for any of those roles. That’s not the role she’s holding, that’s not the role that we’re considering today,” said Sen. Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux Center), also a college professor. 

“We heard that she hopped from job to job; that’s because those were promotions.”

Before coming to Iowa in June, Snow was deputy secretary of Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia under Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose exploitation of the education culture wars was emulated by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to pass a slew of bills aimed at reshaping public education in Iowa while also subsidizing private school education.

Snow also served as third-highest ranking member of the New Hampshire Department of Education and worked for two conservative think tanks that promote using taxpayer funds to fund private school scholarships under the mantra of “school choice.”

Lastly, Snow worked in various roles in the Trump administration and directly under billionaire and former US Secretary of EducationvBetsy DeVos, who has used her family’s wealth to fuel the rapid expansion of taxpayer-funded private school scholarships, including here in Iowa.

Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) praised Snow for her handling of Iowa’s taxpayer private school tuition program, which is in its first year of implementation.

“It was flawless and that was under her command,” Zaun said.

Taylor closed out by noting that Snow’s achievements and opportunities have not come to her by accident.

“This is a quality person,” he said. “This is a motivated person who has succeeded in the jobs she’s held and that’s why she’s received promotions. She sought them and she’s received them and this is the latest example of that.”

  • 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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