Walz says claim about pandemic school closures 'taken out of context'

Gov. Tim Walz says Republicans are taking his claim that students missed little time in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic out of context.

During a weekend interview on WCCO-TV, Walz said 80% of students missed fewer than 10 days of in-person learning. Walz did not specify the time period he was talking about; the interviewer asked whether he would've done anything differently about school closures throughout the pandemic.

Republicans said Walz was trying to mislead voters. The governor's GOP opponent, Scott Jensen, called the claim "a bare-faced lie" when he talked with reporters on Tuesday.

Walz, speaking in an interview with FOX 9, said he was only talking about the 2021-22 school year.

"They're taking this out of context," Walz said.

Minnesota students missed far more time in the previous two school years. Walz ordered schools closed for nearly two weeks at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Many districts transitioned to fully online education for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, then started the following school year in remote learning, too.

Walz said he was talking about the 2021-22 school year in the context of newly released test score data that show many Minnesota students fell behind during the pandemic. Only 45% of students were proficient in math during the most recent school year, down from 55% before the pandemic. About 51% of students were proficient in reading, down 8 percentage points.

Asked if he bears any responsibility for the falling test scores, Walz said, "We all do. I certainly do."

"We can always do better," he said.

Walz criticized the state Legislature for failing to pass new money for K-12 schools this year. Negotiations over education funding stalled during the session's final days.

The Legislature was unable to come up with a deal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on K-12, which would've been part of $4 billion in overall new spending paired with $4 billion in tax breaks. Jensen had encouraged Republican lawmakers to block the bills from passing.