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N.Y. Regents Approve Plan To Simplify Aid Formula

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The New York State Board of Regents last week approved a plan designed to simplify the formula for distributing state aid to schools and equalize funding between high- and low-wealth districts.

The plan, which the regents anticipate will take two years to implement, requires legislative approval.

Backers of the proposal say it will replace an existing funding system that is outmoded and overly complex.

"The whole thing is an unintelligible morass,'' said Carl T. Hayden, the chairman of the regents' state-aid committee. "Local practitioners don't understand it, it focuses on inputs and not on all the consequences, and the inequities in spending between rich and poor are scandalous.''

"Our proposal attempts to create a much greater sense of equity, and at the same time, seeks to simply the way we fund,'' he said.

Advocates say the funding simplification also parallels the transformation of the state education department from a monitoring agency subdivided to oversee specific tasks to an agency made up of teams for providing assistance to schools.

Both the funding formula and the reorganized department are designed to meet the goals of the New Compact for Learning, an outcome-based approach to education adopted by the regents last year.

Three Funding Categories

The regents' plan would reduce the number of funding categories from 53 to three.

The first new category would fold most current programs into a single one covering comprehensive operating aid.

A second category would provide aid for capital projects.

The third and most novel component would provide "extraordinary-pupil-needs aid'' to insure that all children get an "equivalent opportunity for a sound, basic education,'' Mr. Hayden said.

The third category would take into account regional cost differences and district wealth. Moreover, it would require a local funding commitment and set a floor and a ceiling to prevent the money from being diverted for tax relief.

Mr. Hayden said the regents anticipate the plan will stir debate. Already they have heard constituents express concern that such programs as special education might be neglected if categorical grants are lumped together. But safeguards would be built into the system to prevent that, he said.

Conceptually, the new funding scheme "doesn't have to cost another penny,'' Mr. Hayden added.

Because of funding cuts in recent years, however, the regents are seeking a $450 million increase from the legislature for 1993-94.

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