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High Cost Seen Slowing La. Finance-Reform Plan

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The Louisiana Department of Education has put a $185.5-million price tag on a proposed school-funding formula that would provide more money for schools in poor districts at the expense of wealthier ones.

Observers predict, however, that the high cost of the proposal may doom it or force a delay in its implementation.

Superintendent of Education Wilmer S. Cody last month presented the package to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board last year approved in concept the funding formula, developed by a Denver-based education-finance consultant, John Augenbick, but has yet to ratify its cost. That approval is expected at the board's regular meeting Feb. 28, after which the board will send the measure to the legislature.

The legislature has the option of accepting or rejecting the formula, but may not alter it. If lawmakers want changes in the board-approved plan, those changes would have to be sent back to the board for a vote.

Under the proposed funding formula, 52 of the state's 66 school districts would receive more state aid. The other districts would stand to lose state aid, but not in the first year of implementation.

According to the proposal, the minimum foundation program, which set the per-pupil expenditure at $1,767 in the 1989-90 school year, would boost the per-pupil expenditure to $2,032 for 1991-92. The state would provide 67 percent of the per-pupil cost, forcing some districts to raise taxes to complete the full per-pupil amount.

Wealthy districts would lose some state funding if their sales- and property-tax revenues were high relative to the number of students they served.

The department's proposal calls for legislative approval and implementation for the 1991-92 academic year. But a department official who has worked on the project said the depart ment is exploring funding alternatives and ways the plan can be phased in over several years to spread out the cost of implementation.

That would be more politically palatable to the legislature, which in 1988 passed a law requiring a study of the state's education-financing system, and Gov. Buddy Roemer.

This is an election year in Louisi ana, and observers say lawmakers will be reluctant to fund the proposal by cutting other services or increas ing taxes in a difficult economy.

Governor Roemer has already said that the state cannot afford to fund the program.

"The bottom line is the state just does not have the additional money for this coming year," said Mr. Roemer's education adviser, Clau dia Fowler.

The committee that proposed the revised funding formula also recommended:

Formation of an mfp rate-adjustment committee to advise the board on annual rate adjustments to ensure the state provides 67 percent of basic educational costs.3

Legislation granting local school systems the ability to generate rev enues if the locality has no other way of raising the money needed to provide its share of the per-pupil cost.

Limiting to 25 percent the state- aid increase to local systems under the new formula.--mp

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