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Native Iowan, school choice advocate picked to lead state education department
Gov. Kim Reynolds appoints Chad Aldis to succeed Ann Lebo
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has named her new head of the state education department: Chad Aldis, an Iowa native with degrees in economics and law, and experience working for multiple charter school and private school choice think tanks.
Aldis succeeds Ann Lebo, who announced last month she is stepping down from Iowa's Department of Education, which sets standards for K-12 schools and oversees the state’s community colleges, to pursue other opportunities.
Lebo leaves the department shortly after Republican state lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds approved a new $345 million private school financial aid package, and with dozens of public education-related bills swirling through the Iowa Legislature.
Aldis’ appointment is effective March 15, according to the governor’s office. Lebo was paid an annual salary of $154,300 last fiscal year, according to online records.
The department provides oversight to the state education system that includes public elementary and secondary schools, state accredited non-public schools, area education agencies, community colleges and teacher preparation programs. The department employs about 220 people.
“Chad is the type of leader we need at this pivotal time for Iowa’s education system,” Reynolds said in a statement. “His unique perspective will help lead reform within the department and across our schools so that every Iowa student — regardless of what school they attend — receives a quality education that prepares them to be successful in life.”
Aldis is a native of Camanche and a Clinton High School graduate who also attended the University of Northern Iowa before earning an economics degree from the University of Mississippi.
He serves as vice president for Ohio policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he began working in 2013. He has provided testimony and worked with the state’s governor, lawmakers and state education officials on school funding, charter school accountability, graduation requirements and private school choice, according to his biography on the institute’s website.
Before joining Fordham, Aldis served as the executive director of School Choice Ohio and has worked at the Florida Department of Education and for the Walton Family Foundation and as a legislative analyst for the Education Committee of the Florida House of Representatives.
Unlike Lebo — who holds doctorate degrees in education administration, previously served as executive director of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners and was a secondary school principal, and taught English for 17 years — Aldis has no experience teaching or serving as a school administrator, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday afternoon asking whether that was a factor in the governor’s consideration in naming a new director, and how that may affect the ability of a new director to lead the department.
“It’s been 30 years since Iowa led the nation in math scores, ranking first among eighth-graders and second for fourth-graders in 1992,” Reynolds said in a statement. “In 2022, we ranked above the national average, but Iowa students and families deserve better. By innovating our education system and renewing our focus on academic instruction and performance, I’m confident that Iowa schools and students will again lead the way.”
A message left with the Iowa State Education Association, Iowa’s main public teachers union, seeking comment on Aldis’ appointment was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, criticized Reynolds’ pick as “all about politics.”
“Not only has the Governor’s new appointee never worked or taught in a public school, he’s a lobbyist who has worked for special interest groups that push private school vouchers and ending retirement plans like IPERS,” Konfrst said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, said he trust Reynolds’ leadership and that the governor “made a wise choice” to lead the department.
“From getting kids in school to empowering parents in their children’s education, Gov. Reynolds has clearly and unmistakably earned the trust of Iowans on education policy,” Whitver said in a statement, adding he looks forward to working with Aldis to “implement the laws the legislature passes to make Iowa schools the best in the country.”
Aldis, in a governor’s office news release, said he shares the governor's “unwavering commitment to ensuring all children are provided with a quality education that fits their needs.”
"Like many Iowans, I owe much to the great public education I received,“ he said in the news release. ”We need to make sure that today's students have the same opportunities to pursue their dreams. That starts with all students leaving high school with the reading, math, and civics knowledge and skills to prepare them for either college or a career."
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