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Gov. Florio To Propose New School-Finance Formula

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Tackling for the first time his state's fiscal problems, Gov. James J. Florio of New Jersey last week offered a budget that, while making significant cuts in education and other programs, would also provide for four new school-related initiatives.

Arguing that the state's school-finance system "does a disservice to our school children--and to property taxpayers and homeowners," Mr. Florio also said he would soon unveil a new school-aid formula that will direct more state money to poor school districts and shift the burden of education away from property taxes.

The new Governor's $12.1-billion budget plan would depend heavily on tax hikes. It seeks an additional $1.4 billion through increased income and sales taxes and other levies.

In his speech, Mr. Florio contended that the state's estimated $590-million revenue shortfall was the result of eight years of "fiscal irresponsibility" under his predecessor, Gov. Thomas H. Kean.

Mr. Florio proposed eliminating almost all of Mr. Kean's favorite education initiatives, such as a program to experiment with school choice, school district "report cards," a plan to set core course proficiencies, and an alternative-schools project.

The first of his education initiatives would provide $600 million in state assistance for construction and rehabilitation of public schools, to turn them into community centers offering services to the elderly, families, and preschool children.

The plan would allow the state Educational Facilities Authority to issue bonds, backed by state appropriations, to cover 90 percent of construction costs. Local districts would provide the rest.

In the second initiative, the Governor said he would seek to "cut the red tape for our best school districts" by reworking the district performance-monitoring process.

Currently, New Jersey school districts must be recertified every five years to make sure state standards are being met. Mr. Florio said he would introduce legislation to establish a 10-year cycle and eliminate unnecessary requirements.

The Governor also called for $5 million for "Goodstart," which would expand access to health, nutrition, preschool, and child-care services for low-income families.

And the Governor asked for $1 million, to be matched by corporate funds, to expand existing mathematics- and science-education initiatives.

School-Finance Formula

Mr. Florio sought a total of $3.7 billion for K-12 education in fiscal 1991. Although that amount represents a $71-million increase over the current year, it would only provide 84 percent of the full-funding amount under the current system.

Full funding of schools in 1991 would require $4.2 billion, according to state officials.

The state supreme court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit challenging the state's school-aid law for inadequately financing poorer districts.

Mr. Florio said he would seek to revise the system by establishing a "foundation level" of support for each district to provide a quality education. If a school district cannot, with a fair and moderate rate of taxation, provide that level of funding, he said, the state would pay the rest.

He also recommended a cap on property taxes--with $400 million in relief offered "to those who need it most"--and urged that the state take over the cost of certain social services now paid for locally.--lj

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