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R.I. Senate To Appeal Ruling Rejecting Funding Formula

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Two months after a superior-court judge struck down the state's school-funding formula, the Rhode Island Senate has voted to appeal the decision.

The Senate voted 30 to 19 this month to appeal the ruling, which has put pressure on legislators to overhaul the way the state pays for public education.

Critics of the petition, which President Pro Tem of the Senate John Revens Jr. has filed in the state supreme court, said they believe it was a ploy to avoid the risk of having to raise taxes in an election year.

Gov. Bruce Sundlun and Judge Thomas Needham--who issued the Feb. 24 ruling--are backing a $265 million measure that they claim will begin to remedy the funding inequities.

But some legislators said the court ruling gave them no clear direction for reshaping the system, which relies heavily on property taxes to fund schools.

Judge Needham ruled that the school-financing system gives students in affluent districts an unfair advantage over those attending schools in poor communities. (See Education Week, March 9, 1994.)

Lawyers for the towns of Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and West Warwick argued that the current formula discriminates against poor communities, whose property values generally are lower than those of more well-to-do areas.

Legislature's Burden

Governor Sundlun last week appealed to lawmakers to support the "guaranteed student entitlement'' bill now pending in the legislature.

The plan, which was drafted by Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters and approved by the board of regents, already has widespread support in the education community. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

Under the proposal, the state would set a uniform tax rate for all communities to determine what portion of a school budget districts would pay.

In addition, it would allocate extra money to districts for students with special needs.

In his speech to the legislature, Governor Sundlun warned lawmakers that "the court put the burden on the legislature to correct the unconstitutionality'' of the current system.

"Failing to take action would not only avoid our executive and legislative duties,'' the Governor added, "but would also invite contempt of court, and at worst, result in appointment of a special master to manage elementary and secondary funding in Rhode Island.''

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