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Plaintiff intervenor

Illinois school officials who thought they had hit a dead end when their 6-year legal fight against the state's school finance system was rebuffed by the state supreme court have found an unexpected and vocal supporter.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, appearing in the Illinois capital on behalf of his civil rights group, pledged a statewide campaign to overhaul the system.

"One of the premises of our democracy is equal opportunity and equal protection under the law," Mr. Jackson told a group of reporters late last month. "These wide disparities in the amount of money spent on youth have wide disparities in the results."

The Illinois funding system, which relies largely on local property taxes, creates some of the nation's largest gaps between wealthy and poor school districts. In 1994, spending ranged from $2,617 per student in one district to $14,525 in another. The state high court ruled last month that while the system is not perfect, fixing it is a job for the legislature, not the courts. ("Ill. Court Delivers Ultimate Setback in School Finance," Oct. 30, 1996.)

"This whole idea of the real estate tax being the basis for funding has an inherent fallacy, because it always results in the 'haves' having more resources to spend on their children," Mr. Jackson said.

Entertainment dollars

Six months into state-sanctioned gaming, some New Mexico officials are smarting over the way lottery programs are working in the state.

State law sends money generated by scratch-off tickets and the interstate Powerball game to only 34 of the state's 88 school districts. Watching the money roll in has left officials in Santa Fe and Albuquerque--prime gambling areas that don't see any of the games' proceeds--feeling like big losers.

The games have been producing about $560,000 a month for school districts that have bond debt that equals at least 75 percent of their state-allowed capacity.

"We need to make sure the gamblers--the people who spend their entertainment dollars in Bernalillo County--are going to be able to benefit their schools," Rep. James G. Taylor of Albuquerque, said at a recent oversight committee meeting.

--LONNIE HARP

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