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Eighteen Oregon school districts filed a lawsuit in Deschutes County circuit court last month challenging the state's distribution of school aid.

Oregon schools are experiencing a $500 million budget shortfall this year, largely as a result of Measure 5, a property-tax limitation approved by voters in 1990.

In trying to partially fill that gap, the state legislature adopted a formula that is weighted to account for special circumstances such as high numbers of bilingual students.

But lawmakers also capped the amount each district could gain or lose as compared with its revenue before the enactment of Measure 5. This rewards richer districts that had collected more property taxes, and the state is spending "more money to educate students in some districts than it spends to educate similarly situated students in other districts,'' the plaintiffs argue in their suit.

They contend that the state is violating equal-protection guarantees in the Oregon and U.S. constitutions, as well as a section of the state constitution mandating a "uniform'' school system.

A spokesman for the state education department declined comment.

Arizona Vouchers: A school-reform bill that would provide poor families in Arizona with state-funded vouchers for private-school tuition has passed the House education committee on a 6-to-4 vote.

The $23 million omnibus measure, proposed by Rep. Lisa Graham, the Republican chairwoman of the committee, still faces an uphill battle, primarily because of opposition to its voucher provisions.

The bill appeared to be one vote short of passage in the House. Nonetheless, said Doug Cole, a spokesman for Gov. Fife Symington, "We're very confident we're going to get there.'' He added that the Governor has not decided whether to call a special session on education. Voucher backers have said such a session offers the best chance of getting their bill passed. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

If enacted, the bill would make Arizona the first state to adopt a statewide private-school-voucher program. The measure would set aside $3 million in state funds to provide 2,000 families with vouchers worth up to $1,500, which could be used at any accredited private or parochial school. It would also permit charter schools and open enrollment and expand preschool programs for low-income children.

Choice Plan: Connecticut lawmakers have revived an education-reform package that would allow parents to use "empowerment scholarships'' to send their children to public or private schools.

The plan, introduced last month by the House's Democratic majority leader, Thomas Luby, and his G.O.P. counterpart, Edward Krawiecki Jr., would also support the creation of local charter schools.

Mr. Luby backed a similar measure that failed last year. Unlike last year's version, however, the new bill would allow school boards to decide whether to participate.

Asserting Authority: The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would give the Senate oversight of the state education commissioner's contract.

Observers said the 60-to-35 vote represents some lawmakers' disenchantment with both the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, which created the appointed post, and Commissioner Thomas C. Boysen.

Opponents said the plan threatens a central tenet of the reform law, which tried to curb political influences on policy. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Stumbo, a vocal critic of Mr. Boysen, said its intent is to give lawmakers more oversight.

Vol. 13, Issue 23

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