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Revisions Urged for Ohio Finance System

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A joint committee of the Ohio legislature last week issued a set of recommendations aimed at reducing funding disparities between school districts before the courts intervene.

The present state financing system has failed to overcome inequities, the bipartisan panel concluded, but could be improved with adjustments and should not be scrapped. Noting that per-pupil spending in the state last year varied from an average of about $4,930 in the 50 most affluent districts to about $2,960 in the 50 poorest, the committee voted 8 to 1 to approve a list of recommendations that focused on redistributing new state and local money to poorer districts.

"It is clear, that if adopted and given time to work, these recommendations will result in significantly greater equity in school funding than now exists," the committee aid in its report.

Members of the panel said they hoped their proposals would head off a finance-equity lawsuit similar to ones that have led to the overturning of school-funding systems in several states in recent years. The Cleveland school board filed a fiL4nance suit in state court this month. The recommendations, which probably will be drafted into a bill this year and incorporated into the 1992-1993 state budget, include:

Requiring districts to contribute half their growth in revenue from business-property taxes to a countywide funding pool for the schools, and half their growth in revenue from public utilities to a similar statewide pool.

Creating an objective mechanism to determine district educational costs, and for the first time factoring in personal income as well as property values when assessing district wealth.

Freezing and eventually phasing out a basic-aid guarantee designed to keep district funding levels from dropping too rapidly. The panel's report argues that the provision has had the effect of giving wealthy districts too much money and stalling the effort to equalize funding through the state's foundation formula.

Using an equalization mechanism that recognizes disparities in district wealth when distributing funds for certain categorical programs.

Adding to the state's foundation formula an aid-for-effort factor to re ward the revenue-raising efforts of districts that have low property val ues and incomes, and thus tend not to produce much revenue with local tax increases.

The committee also recommended that the legislature strongly encour age collaboration between the pub lic schools and other state and local agencies.

The committee defeated several other proposals, including a plan by a coalition of education groups to es tablish a 20-mill tax for schools that would be on top of existing levies now collected by counties, towns, and other taxing districts.

Gov. George V. Voinovich had no immediate comment on the recom mendations. But last week in his first speech on education, the new Governor called on the state to equalize school funding before the courts act on the issue.

"I'm not going to let, as Governor of this state, some federal court dic tate how we fund education in Ohio," Mr. Voinovich said. "We're going to do it together and make sure it's done right."--ps

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