Education policy is at the forefront of the Minnesota gubernatorial race as test scores drop amid the COVID-19 pandemic and students return to school.

This week, DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s campaign launched its fall’s first TV attack ad, criticizing Republican challenger Scott Jensen over education funding and praising Waltz’s own record. In both cases, the ad omits important information.

Criticism of Jensen

A Walz ad features one speaker. In the campaign, Mary is described as a teacher in Apple Valley. After praising Walz’ education funding proposal, she turns to the ad’s main claim.

“Scott Jensen will cut education to cut taxes for the wealthy,” says Mary, but this requires clarification.

The ad correctly quotes Jensen on May 27th on Minnesota Public Radio. The interviewer asked Jensen if he would support a large amount of money for his education, or a lesser amount.

Jensen explained his comments to reporters this week.

“I think people sometimes invest and say, ‘Oh my God, I bought a house. It’s just a black hole. I keep pouring money into it and it still doesn’t work,'” he said. “Come on guys, can we grow up and deal with the problem at hand? We’re trying to help our kids, but as a system in Minnesota it’s failing.”

Jensen’s track record with education funding has been mixed.

Jensen voted for two K-12 budgets that included increased funding during his one-term term in the Minnesota Senate from 2017 to 2021. His second in 2019 came after a split Congress delayed his signing with Walz. The Senate unanimously approved the education budget.

As a candidate for governor in May, Jensen lobbied legislative Republicans to block an additional $1 billion in funding for the K-12. The money was part of a bargain of tax cuts and new spending that Waltz and legislative leaders agreed to, but lawmakers were unable to agree on the details and the bill stalled.

Jensen supports a voucher program. This allows parents to use a portion of their child’s per-student funding from the state to enroll their child in a private school. That would effectively cut funding to school districts as students leave.

Jensen said some of the state money should stay with the child’s home school district, but did not provide a breakdown of the amount.

At a press conference, Jensen said, “If a school district comes one day with no students at all, it’s totally fine. Because I was trying,” he said. This week, he unveiled his 10-point education plan, which includes vouchers.

Another part of the argument is that Jensen would cut taxes on wealthy Minnesotans, citing Jensen’s support for abolishing the state’s income tax.

Minnesota collected $14.1 billion in personal income taxes for the year ended June 30, according to state data. Jensen said he would consider raising the state’s 6.875% sales tax by 0.5 percentage points, plus an average of 5-10% budget cuts across state governments to make up the shortfall.

While eliminating the state income tax would benefit all taxpayers, high-income earners would benefit most under Minnesota’s income tax system.

For a Minnesota couple, the first $41,050 of income is taxed at 5.35%. Meanwhile, income over $284,810 is taxed at her 9.85%.

waltz record

The ad also promoted Walz’s educational record, stating that he “fought to keep our schools well funded, investing in a summer catch-up program for students hurt by the pandemic.” I’m here.

That’s not all there is to Walz’s record.

It’s true that Walz funded its summer school program after the COVID-19 pandemic. He spent $75 million from his COVID-19 relief pot in the Commonwealth, which Congress gave him control over.

It is also true that Walz proposed more state aid for K-12 schools in their respective budgets. The term “fully funded” is more difficult to assess because Democrats and Republicans disagree on what it means.

But this ad focuses on fundraising but ignores performance. Minnesota students’ standardized test scores have declined since Waltz’s first year in office, according to state data.

In the 2021-22 school year, 45% of students are fluent in math and 51% are fluent in reading, both down from pre-pandemic.

Jensen blames Walz’s handling of the pandemic for the slow performance. On Monday, he will test Jensen’s claims of low test scores and his Walz claims about missed class hours during the pandemic.

True: Accurate information that requires little or no additional context
Clarification Needed: Almost Accurate Information Without Context to Help Voters
Not all: The information presented leaves out a significant amount of context that could lead voters to different conclusions.
Misleading: Partial information presented in a manner that misleads voters
False: Information that is inaccurate or out of context

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