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Disparities in the level of school funding in Oregon do not violate the state constitution, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled unanimously.

The school-finance system, which relies heavily on local property taxes, had been challenged by 56 school districts belonging to the Coalition for Equitable School Funding. The coalition argued that differences in funding among districts violate provisions of the constitution demanding "establishment of a uniform and general system of common schools."

Justice Susan Graber declared in the court's opinion this month, however, that the system "does not violate the Oregon Constitution in the way the plaintiffs assert."

In a concurrent opinion, Justice Edward N. Fadeley said, "The school-finance system is perilously close to the edge of the cliff of unconstitutionality, under the allegations of the complaint, but has not yet gone over the edge."

In fact, the court said, the constitution upholds the validity of property-tax-funded school systems, disparities notwithstanding, and the public accepted this view when it approved a constitutional amendment setting up a "safety net" for schools in 1987. The safety net allows school districts that are unable to raise additional money through tax levies to operate on the previous year's funding level.

Districts enrolling 15 percent of the state's students currently are in the safety net, according to the state education department.

Ohio's school-finance system, already under a court challenge filed by the Cleveland schools, has come under attack in a second suit filed by a rural district.

The Southern Local School District of Hemlock claims in a suit filed this month that the state's formula for funding education unconstitutionally shortchanges rural and inner-city districts.

The suit was prepared by lawyers for the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which represents 285 of the state's 612 school districts.

Coalition members, some of whom are expected to join the Southern Local suit, were named as plaintiffs in the Cleveland suit. They have since sought to sever themselves from that suit, however, in order to seek remedies tailored to their needs.

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