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VIEWPOINT: Education bill focuses on students, while $800M remains in state coffers

Minnesotans expect us to come to St. Paul and lead by working across the aisle. From the beginning, representatives in the House wanted to ensure any bipartisan budget agreement invested in our schools, improved aging adults’ quality of life, prioritized middle class families and didn’t include a gas tax hike. 

While Gov. Dayton vetoed several bipartisan budget bills to force a special session, I am pleased we were able to work out our differences because it’s what Minnesotans expect us to do. 

First, our student-focused education bill which was recently signed into law encompasses $525 million more for our schools, including $95 million more for our littlest learners to help close the achievement gap with targeted early learning scholarships and school readiness aid. What’s more, the bill adds 2 percent on the formula for 2016 and 2017, giving school districts the flexibility to spend that money where they see the best fit, whether it’s to hire new teachers, reduce class sizes or expand afterschool programs. 

Legislators worked together this session to prioritize Minnesota kids and passed a bipartisan $17.2 billion education budget bill that will benefit schools and students across the state. South Washington County Schools (District 833) will see an increase in funding of $340 per pupil, and Stillwater Area Schools (District 834) will see a $623 increase per pupil. 

Of  course, education wasn’t our only focus this year. Legislators crafted a bipartisan Health and Human Services (HHS) budget that invests in our nursing homes, increasing the rate reimbursements to improve the quality of life for aging adults and raise the wages of hardworking caregivers in this profession. What’s more, this legislation also includes provisions to increase government oversight to investigate cases of waste and abuse within public programs, helping save taxpayers money.

While we passed a lot of great things this session, it’s also just as important to note what didn’t make it into our budget agreement — a gas tax increase. Talking with constituents, raising the price of gasoline was overwhelmingly unpopular. This plan would have cost Woodbury drivers hundreds of dollars more each year, increasing costs for small businesses, taking more from family budgets and hurting Minnesotans on a fixed income. 

Unfortunately, Gov. Dayton and the Senate DFL insisted on this regressive gas tax increase in order to pass a long-term transportation plan or a tax relief bill. With around $800 million left unspent this year, I am hopeful that next year we can revisit these issues because they are top priorities for our community and state. However, House Republicans will continue to stand on the side of Minnesota families and taxpayers, opposing a costly new gas tax.

Overall, this session was about bipartisan compromise, and I am pleased with the budget the legislature and Gov. Dayton agreed upon. Our budget has the third-lowest percent increase in general fund spending in more than 50 years, as we strived to check government growth and keep it more in line with family budgets. In all, our bipartisan plan invests in our priorities including kids, aging adults and families — all without a tax increase. 

The legislature is not scheduled to meet again until next year, but please know I am available should you need assistance on a matter of state government or have input on legislation. As always, I am honored to be your voice in St. Paul.

Kelly Fenton. R-Woodbury, represents Minnesota House of Representatives District 53B. She can be reached at 651-296-1147 or by emailing  rep.kelly.fenton@house.mn.

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