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N.D. Senate Plan To Revamp Funding Formula Gains Favor

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A North Dakota Senate plan to tinker with the school-funding formula seems to be gaining legislative favor over two other proposals, including one from Gov. Edward T. Schafer.

The bill from Senate leaders was moving last week as a less expensive bill offered by Governor Schafer languished without committee action and a more expensive plan offered by education groups was quickly shot down.

The Senate measure would add $35.5 million to a slightly retooled version of the current state-aid formula to try to even out inequities of local wealth among school districts.

The no-new-taxes proposal, sponsored by both the Senate majority leader and the chairman of the Senate education committee, won committee approval earlier this month.

The Senate plan combines the $25.5 million equity fund that Governor Schafer favors and his proposed $10 million increase in state aid to schools for the fiscal 1995-97 biennium. Simply pumping more money into the revised formula would help equalize local spending, some observers argue.

The Governor, a Republican, favors spending the $25.5 million outside the aid formula, funneling it directly to needy districts. But that strategy may have upset too many local interests, observers said. (See Education Week, Jan. 18, 1995.)

A Conservative State

Meanwhile, the House has already rejected a plan from a trio of education groups to get more money to schools by raising taxes.

While a version still exists in the Senate, its survival probably depends on significant amendments. Even then, it would be a prime target for a gubernatorial veto, supporters acknowledged.

"It's a conservative state, and if people can get by without raising taxes, they will," said Tom Feldner, an assistant executive director of the North Dakota School Boards Association. The legislature is controlled by Republicans.

The $151 million finance-reform bill was introduced on behalf of the school boards' group and the state associations representing administrators and teachers. The plan calls for a half-cent state sales tax and a 2.25 percent increase in state income taxes, intended to generate about $111 million to go into the current formula.

The revenue would be combined with the Governor's proposed school-finance increases and other new money he targeted for school programs--nearly $40 million.

This legislative session is the first since the state supreme court fell one vote short last year of finding the school-funding system unconstitutional.

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