Kalbach: Keeping an eye on McKenzie Snow

Barb Kalbach. Photo submitted

By Guest Post

April 9, 2024

Gov. Kim Reynolds continued her war on public schools earlier this month when she narrowly won Iowa Senate confirmation of McKenzie Snow to lead the Iowa Department of Education (DOE). Snow is the wrong choice for the 500,000+ kids who attend our public schools, and I fully expect her to carry out Reynolds’ plan for defunding Iowa’s public education system.

It’s been difficult for Reynolds to keep a DOE director. Snow is the fourth one in four years—and the third director in a year, according to the Des Moines Register. That’s a lot of turnover for a high-level position, and it could suggest that Reynolds’ education “reforms” have left the DOE in a state of disarray.

Unlike previous education directors, Snow has no classroom, teaching, or administrative experience. She did not train as a teacher in college. She has no clear connection to Iowa, and she lacks the experience necessary for the job. You may wonder why the governor would pick someone like Snow to head the Iowa Department of Education.

My guess is Reynolds picked her because she’s a leading player in a national strategy to defund and privatize public schools. Snow came to Iowa last June, and has faced a lot of public opposition, especially from teachers, watchdog groups and a number of state legislators. Previously, she worked in Virginia and New Hampshire in education administration. And before that, Snow worked for Trump Education Secretary Betsy Devos, a billionaire and leading proponent of privatizing public schools.

States across the country are following the Reynolds’ playbook. One of the biggest fights has been in Texas, where rural Republican legislators have been holding out against Gov. Greg Abbott’s voucher plan. The pro-private school PAC, American Federation for Children (AFC), is spending millions of dollars to elect pro-voucher Republicans. There’s no doubt it’s a well-funded and organized effort.

The AFC was also active in Iowa in 2022 when they helped Reynolds push her private school voucher plan. They gladly endorsed pro-voucher State Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Montour), who faced an Iowa CCI ethics complaint last month for cashing in on voucher—to the tune of more than $900,000 each year–for a private school he wants to start next year in Tama County.

Over the next few months, Iowa CCI members will be doing everything we can to make sure Snow and her Department of Education do as little damage as possible as they begin implementing Reynolds’ changes to our Area Education Agencies. Snow will have a lot of input and control over critical education services across the state, especially in rural areas where AEAs are so essential.

We’ll keep making the case for strong, well-funded public schools that serve all students. They are anchor institutions in our communities. And we’ll keep talking about the fact that Reynolds has forced unpopular changes on us and our schools – 62% of Iowans said last March they oppose her private vouchers.

We can’t afford to sit back and let a small group of politicians and bureaucrats wreak havoc on a public education system we’ve spent generations building. And as we get closer to casting our votes this November, we’ll keep reminding ourselves–and others–that elections matter.

Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at [email protected].

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