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N.J. Assembly Approves District-Assessment Bill

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The New Jersey General Assembly last week passed a bill creating a new district-assessment system aimed at helping state officials monitor their new education-finance plan while cutting away red tape binding successful districts.

The measure was expected to be approved by the Senate late last week.

The new assessment system was designed to make state monitoring less burdensome on the state's high-achieving districts, thus allowing education officials to concentrate on the troubled ones, most of which stand to receive large state-aid increases under the finance-reform bill passed by the legislature last summer, according to Edward Richardson, the education department's legislative liaison.

Key provisions of the assessment bill include extending the certification period for districts from five to seven years and allowing the commissioner of education to grant contingent certification for districts in need of only minor modifications.

Meanwhile, lawmakers last week debated possible changes in the finance plan, which has evoked strong protests from state taxpayers and school officials. The law's chief sponsor, Gov. James J. Florio, said last month that he was willing to consider changes in the controversial program. (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1990.)

A South Dakota legislative panel has called for revocation of a much-debated "hold harmless" provision governing the distribution of state school aid.

The bill backed by the House Interim Education Committee last month would phase out over three years the provision that has protected each district from suffering a drastic drop in state aid, even if it deserved to get less money under the formula.

Representative Edwin W. Olson Jr., chairman of the panel, said backers of the measure were probably influenced by the potential for a lawsuit filed on behalf of the dis4tricts that feel wronged by the hold-harmless provision--usually larger districts that have been taxing residents relatively heavily.

Nine California school districts have filed suit claiming that the state has failed to provide schools with equitable funding.

The suit, which names Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig as its defendant, asserts that the state education department has violated a 1976 California Supreme Court order by basing local school funding on property values and failing to reduce funding disparities between districts to less than $100 per pupil.

The suit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, asks that the legislature and Mr. Honig be given one year to devise and implement a new finance system.

Officials of the Capistrano Unified School District, a plaintiff in the suit, said their district receives $2,910 annually per student, while the Los Alamitos district gets $3,343.

Two separate lawsuits by school districts challenging Idaho's school-finance system should be consolidated, the state board of education has urged.

Attorneys for the board were expected to argue before a state judge this week that the suits are similar in nature and should be considered as a single challenge.

One suit, brought by Idaho Schools for Equal Opportunity, seeks an increase in state financial support for precollegiate education.

A suit filed by 19 districts from the southern part of the state argues that the allocation of education funding is unfair because of "widely disparate" local property values.

But Robert Huntley, a lawyer for the iseo, said he will oppose the consolidation motion because the issues raised by the suits are different.

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