The Missouri General Assembly is now one step closer to finalizing the state’s $27.8 billion spending plan for Fiscal Year 2018. On Tuesday, the Senate approved the last of the 13 appropriations bills that comprise the operating budget.

As legislators and public servants, our goal is to craft a budget that accurately reflects the priorities of Missouri and its citizens — a fiscally responsible budget our taxpayers can actually afford. In strained budget years like the one we’re facing, this often means making some tough choices. Regardless of the circumstances, however, we in the Legislature are committed to funding our state departments, vital programs and services in the fairest, most prudent way possible.

Providing Missouri’s young people with a high-quality education is always a top priority. Every year, lawmakers have appropriated additional dollars to the state’s elementary and secondary education funding formula, known as the Foundation Formula. Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to reach the amount required to fully fund it. This year, both chambers have voted to fully fund the formula for the first time since it was adopted by the Legislature in 2005. This means Missouri school districts will receive nearly $3.4 billion in basic aid for FY 2018.

Other education funding highlights include a $12 million increase for early childhood special education and $2 million for virtual education. The Access MO Scholarship program is set to receive $76.5 million while Bright Flight will see a bump of $4 million. This will make higher education more affordable for numerous students throughout the state. Finally, the Senate’s version of the budget only calls for a 6.5 percent reduction in UM System funding, whereas the House’s budget originally included a 9 percent cut.

Along with funding for many other worthy programs and services, the FY 2018 budget includes: $1.5 million for the secretary of state to implement Voter ID laws; $62 million for State Road Fund Projects for 2017-2021; $880,000 for the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act; $5.3 million for the Missouri Job Development Program; $2 million for re-entry and recidivism programs; and $10 million for Opioid Crisis Grand funding.

Passing an on-time and balanced budget is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated responsibility. As such, it is also our greatest responsibility. While the budget process is nearing the finish line, our work is not yet done. The House and Senate still need to meet in conference to resolve any differences before the budget bills can be sent to the governor. The Legislature has until 6 p.m., Friday, May 5, to deliver its finalized budget.