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School-Construction Legislation Expected in N.J.

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New Jersey lawmakers last week were expected to introduce legislation that would provide $300 million to renovate and construct public schools throughout the state.

Dubbed New Jersey WORKS for Schools, the capital-improvement program represents the second major education initiative in recent months to receive bipartisan support from the state's Democratic Governor and Republican legislative leadership.

The plan is "a major downpayment on our effort to reverse the legacy of neglect that has left many communities with crumbling or inadequate schools,'' Gov. James J. Florio said in presenting the proposal along with President of the Senate Donald T. DiFrancesco and Speaker of the General Assembly Garabad (Chuck) Haytaian.

"If we are going to better our state's education system and create an environment that enhances the learning process,'' Mr. DiFrancesco added, "we must start from the ground up.''

The program consists of four separate funding components, three of them in the form of loans.

The largest pool of money--$125 million--would be used to provide low-interest loans to school districts for as much as 50 percent of the cost of building, renovating, or converting school facilities.

A second component of the plan would go toward funding smaller projects costing $5 million or less. Out of the $100 million fund, districts would receive market-rate loans to pay for as much as 75 percent of costs.
Another $25 million would be earmarked for low-interest loans for up to half the cost of projects undertaken to comply with state health and safety requirements.

Finally, $50 million would be made available in the form of grants to the state's "special needs'' districts in urban areas.

The grant proposal for the special-needs districts was part of a deal hammered out by Republicans and Democrats late last year as the first step in overhauling New Jersey's controversial school-funding formula. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

Officials said the capital-improvement proposal could also help stimulate the state economy by creating as many as 11,000 construction jobs.--K.D.

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