Gov. Walz is lying about book bans in other states to distract from falling test scores in Minnesota

Last Friday, I appeared on our new podcast in which, among other things, we discussed Gov. Walz’s bizarre recent appearance at the Iowa State Fair, where he wandered around bellowing at bemused attendees about slavery and book bans.

These bans, in fact, turn out not to be bans at all, as my colleague Catrin Wigfall has explained. They refer to the decision by some library authorities to not provide age-inappropriate material in taxpayer funded libraries.

A case in point is the decision by Rutherford County Library System in Tennessee not to carry the book Queerfully & Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens by St. Paul’s DFL Rep. Leigh Finke. But the book is not banned. Anyone wishing to purchase Rep. Finke’s answers to questions that generations of parents have agonized over, such as “Can I look at porn?” and “Can I go to the local queer sex shop?” can do so from a range of booksellers both online and “brick and mortar.” They simply have to pay for it themselves, not expect the taxpayer to fund it, that is all.

But the discussion of these phantom book bans does serve a useful political purpose for the governor. As he positions himself as a potential replacement for an ailing President Biden as the Democratic nominee in 2024, such rhetoric serves to distract from his administration’s woeful record on what really matters in schools: education.

As Catrin wrote yesterday:

More than half of Minnesota students don’t meet basic proficiency in reading or math, according to newly released 2023 statewide assessment results by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

As measured by the 2023 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), 50.3 percent of tested students do not meet grade-level reading standards, and 54.7 percent do not meet grade-level math standards…

She notes that:

Reading and math scores are far below what they were in 2019, down about 10 percentage points. (On national assessments, Minnesota reading and math scores are the lowest they have been in 30 years.)

This is another area where, as I’ve written recently, Minnesota might well be above average now — or below, in the case of crime — but it won’t be for much longer if current trends continue. Remember those crazy CNBC rankings the local media were so excited about? As Catrin wrote last month:

Minnesota’s education ranking for 2023 has declined a good amount since CNBC’s 2019 study — falling from #3 in 2019 to #13 in 2023. This is among the Top 10 steepest ranking declines over this time period. 

Gov. Walz’s record on education, like that on the economy, simply isn’t strong enough for him to use as a justification for the national role he craves. This is a damning indictment from someone who so often touts his experience as a teacher. That is why he is basing his pitch on overheated, fact-free culture war rhetoric instead. Expect to see more ranting at more state fairs.

There used to be an old joke that Cuba had some of the highest literacy rates in the world but all the books were banned. In Minnesota, it’s the opposite.