Guest Column: Education 1 of most important parts in budget

Published 6:44 pm Monday, September 4, 2017

Guest Column, By Peggy Bennett

As our local students head back to school, I’m reminded of what a fun time it was for me as a teacher to welcome my class and get to know a new group of young learners. I’ve gained a new perspective working as a state legislator, where I can take a step back and see all the strides our state is making for every student in Minnesota.

Peggy Bennett

As a former teacher, I saw firsthand the type of impact our local schools can make on our students. I was extremely pleased with the progress we made this year funding schools and early education, as well as needed reforms to help learners throughout the state.

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This year, we passed — and the governor signed — legislation to increase education funding by $1.3 billion over the next two years. This includes the 2 percent yearly increase to the per-pupil formula that Minnesota school districts requested. This increase will pay dividends locally as the five districts that serve the majority of students will receive a combined $3.2 million of new funding in the next two years. We also included additional funding for early learning scholarships, which targets help for our youngest at-risk learners by allowing qualifying families to choose the early learning program that best fits their lifestyle and child’s needs.

I was fortunate to author and pass legislation to include over $12 million for Reading Corps, a topnotch reading intervention program. This will help Reading Corps expand their quality interventions to reach more at-risk children in our schools.

Beyond funding, we were able to pass needed reforms to help schools and students. We repealed the “last in, first out” default in state statute, allowing schools and local bargaining units to negotiate mutually beneficial staff retention decisions that better serve students, teachers and schools. I was also proud to help work on the overhauling of our broken teacher licensure system to help get qualified teachers into classrooms, especially in rural Minnesota.

Another bill I authored that became law is called Erin’s Law. This is near to my heart as it deals with protecting vulnerable young students. Erin’s Law is a program for schools to help children prevent and report sexual abuse. I was honored and humbled to carry this legislation and see it become law.

Education is one of the most important areas of our state budget, and one that I believe brings such value and promise to our future. I can’t wait to see all the positive benefits down the road as our teachers, parents and, most importantly, our students utilize the increased funding and reforms.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, represents District 27A.