LOCAL CONTROL IN NEW ENGLAND SCHOOL FUNDING

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

While public-school finance is an ongoing debate in states around the country, the issue has particular relevance in New England due to the region's strong system of local government.

``The New England states have a tradition of local control, and the towns are very involved in making decisions,'' says Mary Fulton, policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States. ``They have also tended to support their education through more local funds, which basically translates into property taxes.''

Besides New Hampshire, the following five other New England states are debating the issue and trying to balance local control with educational equity:

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* Massachusetts. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled last June that the state failed its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education for all public-school students based on its property-tax-financed system. Meanwhile, the legislature passed a major education-finance bill that earmarked $1.7 billion in state education money over seven years. The law raises education spending to a ``foundation level'' of $5,500 per student by 2000.

* Rhode Island. A superior court ruled that the state's previous school-aid formula to reimburse property-poor districts was unconstitutional. The legislature will now take up the issue and Gov. Bruce Sundlun (D) will propose his new school-funding plan next month.

* Maine. A superior court case, now pending, will address the question of how much extra state aid should be provided to poorer school districts. Meanwhile, the legislature is debating whether to provide short-term funding of between $7 million and $10 million to these communities.

* Vermont. A proposed bill would ban the use of local property taxes for education and replace it with a statewide property tax to equalize per pupil funding. The bill has passed the state House of Representatives, and the state Senate is expected to act on it by May.

* Connecticut. Lawmakers are debating a legislative package to increase by $200 million state education money for property-poor communities.

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