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School-Aid Formula Is Debated in Colorado

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Lawmakers in Colorado are debating a complex measure that would allocate state aid to school districts on the basis of factors such as location and per-pupil costs, rather than on enrollment.

The new funding formula, which has been approved by the House but faces stiff opposition in the Senate, would designate the state's 176 districts as belonging to one of eight categories, such as "urban-suburban,'' "small attendance,'' or "recreational.''

Districts within the categories would then be subdivided for the purpose of allotting state aid on the basis of such variables as classroom expenditures and administrative costs. This would reflect the fact that operating costs in some regions of the state are higher than in others.

"Philosophically, the bill says it probably is appropriate that districts spend different amounts per pupil,'' said Charles S. Brown, executive director of the state legislative council's staff, who drafted the computer model on which the proposed formula is based.

The measure also represents "an attempt to close the disparity'' between poor and affluent districts, said its chief sponsor in the House, Representative Vickie Armstrong.

"We've got the poor districts, but we've also got the vacation districts'' such as Vail and Aspen, she said, also noting that enrollments in districts vary from 42 to 72,000 students.

According to Mr. Brown, the plan would be phased in over three years. It would increase state support for schools from its present level of $927 million to about $1.1 billion.

It would also establish a standard 33.6-mill property-tax rate for schools, nearly twice the level that some districts are now levying, he said.

Although the bill, HB 1341, sailed through the House, it became the target of about 65 amendments during hearings before the Senate education committee. Most of the changes were sought by relatively affluent districts that would lose state aid and be forced to raise property taxes under the existing plan.

The education panel passed the bill after adding eight amendments addressing such concerns. It is now before the chamber's appropriations committee, which is expected to act on it this week.

"The committee has to find the money to fund it,'' said Senator Al Meikeljohn, chairman of the education committee and a member of the appropriations panel. "Finding that money is not going to be easy.''

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