Walz State of State focuses on inputs, not results

Gov. Tim Walz traveled to Owatonna High School for his sixth State of the State address last night. He heaped praise on the Owatonna community for passing a $104 million referendum in 2019 to build a shiny new school building. “The classrooms here are gorgeous, they’re full of natural light and technology,” he said. Spending money on nice facilities is a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s an input.

Walz then listed off several accomplishments of the 2023 session including the largest expenditure in K-12 education is state history, recruiting more teachers of color and hiring more counselors and nurses. “We’ve invested in making sure every student can read at grade level.” After six years in office, Gov. Walz is just now “investing” in “making sure” every student can read at grade level? Again, inputs.

A successful governor giving their sixth State of the State address would cite statistics about how students in Minnesota have improved academically because of their leadership. But that’s not the case in Minnesota. The real state of education in Minnesota should alarm Gov. Walz and everyone around him — less than 50% of students can read and do math at grade level, including students in the Owatonna school district.

(I was going to show you Owatonna’s school report card, but the site is down the day after Walz’s speech. Coincidence?)

Walz said last night he “couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done together to improve education inside the walls of this school and in every school across this state.” But he hasn’t improved education anywhere in Minnesota. The statewide trends on test scores were already going down even before the disastrous school closings that exacerbated learning loss and put our kids years behind. Walz should be held accountable for this learning loss and his education department should be working night and day on improving these test scores.

More money does not equal greater success in schools. More money usually ends up in the pockets of teachers through salary settlements. Worse yet, most of the new money Walz delivered to school districts last year came with strings and new mandates, tying the hands of local school boards and limiting their ability to improve academics.

To be fair to Walz, he did offer some data on one of his signature initiatives, the free school lunch program. According to Walz, 30% more kids are eating breakfast and 11% more kids are eating lunch at school. We’ll have to wait until the next State of the State to see if free lunch will improve test scores. Don’t hold your breath.

House Republican Leader Lisa Demuth was interviewed immediately after last night’s speech and succinctly and forcefully exposed Gov. Walz for blowing the surplus, raising taxes and failing Minnesota students.

Demuth noted that kindergartners who began school when Walz took over are now in fourth grade and testing a full year behind in reading and math. What a legacy for our teacher/governor!

Walz ended this part of his speech saying, “Think about how many young people will walk out those doors each Spring, full of passion, purpose, and ready to make a contribution to this community, this state and this world.”

Will they?

Walz used the rest of his speech to pick fake fights on issues that don’t concern average Minnesotans. His joke about Republicans “picking fights with beer companies and librarians” fell flat. His tough talk about “taking on the NRA” over gun issues missed the mark, considering how weak the NRA organization is in Minnesota. Lastly, he claimed that decisions on IVF made by Alabama judges were a “direct attack on our family, a direct attack on my children.” This over-the-top rhetoric on fake issues is not what you would expect from a successful two-term governor.