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In Ohio, Bill To Revamp School Funding Unveiled

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As an Ohio judge hears a lawsuit contending that the state's current school-finance system is unconstitutional, a leading lawmaker has introduced a bill designed to reduce funding disparities by increasing state funding and pooling the proceeds of economic growth.

Sen. H. Cooper Snyder, the chairman of the Senate education committee, renewed debate about the funding system this month by unveiling a plan that would raise funding across the state by more than $1,000 per child.

Ohio lawmakers took a long look at the existing funding system during their 1991 and 1992 sessions, but so far have been unable to reach a solution that significantly reduces the wide per-pupil funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts.

Under Mr. Snyder's plan, growth in taxes on commercial and utility property would be pooled within a county and distributed with an eye toward equity. Residential and agricultural property taxes would remain within each school district, however.

Further, the bill would increase minimum state aid from the current $2,976 per child to $4,000. The plan calls on the legislature to obtain the new funding by setting aside 0.5 percent of the state's general-fund budget on top of current education spending.

"We're going to prioritize education,'' Mr. Snyder said.

Some school officials were initially critical of the idea of pooling future tax revenue. But analysts point out that much of the disparity in Ohio's school funding comes in districts that are home to power plants and big businesses.

Among other provisions, Mr. Snyder's plan would require a telephone in every Ohio classroom in an effort to increase the use of technology, and would mandate parental involvement by threatening jail time for any parent absent from a parent-teacher conference.

The legislation would also authorize $25 million for a pilot private-school-voucher program.

Mr. Snyder's plan comes as school officials are gathered in the small town of New Lexington, where lawyers are arguing the constitutionality of the present school-funding system. Most of the state's districts are involved in the challenge. (See Education Week, Nov. 3, 1993.)

A similar case is also scheduled to be heard next year in Cleveland.
--LONNIE HARP

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