ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday signed a $20 billion education funding bill, the first in a series of budget bills approved by lawmakers in last week’s special session.

Walz signed the E-12 education bill at Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul, with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and several pre-school students looking on. The bill boosts funding for public schools by $543 million, including an increase in per-pupil state aid to public school districts of 2 percent in each year of the two-year budget.

The bill also includes money to preserve 4,000 state-funded pre-kindergarten seats that were due to expire, and more money for tribal schools, special education and school safety.

In a statement, Walz, a former teacher at Mankato West High School, said he is “proud to sign this bill to increase our investment in Minnesota’s children and improve our schools.”

“This is only the beginning. We won’t stop until every child in Minnesota receives a high-quality education, regardless of their race or ZIP code,” said the Democratic governor, who was elected last November.

Walz had wanted more money for schools, but said the education bill was a good compromise with Senate Republicans, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Walz was expected to sign the rest of the finance bills that make up the new $48 billion, two-year state budget later Thursday.

Last year, Walz’s predecessor, Democrat Mark Dayton, used the same backdrop of Vento Elementary to veto a Republican-backed tax bill. After Thursday’s signing ceremony, Walz said he is proud not to have so far vetoed any bills that were passed this year. Minnesota has divided state government, with Republicans holding a majority in the Senate and Democrats controlling the House.

“That is certainly a prerogative and something that the executive office has and uses as a tool when necessary,” Walz said. “But I certainly think that this is the way Minnesotans would like us to get things done, and this E-12 bill does that.”

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