Rural rebellion over funding

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
UNITED STATES. Seventeen rural school districts in New Jersey have sued for additional state aid comparable to the amounts being earmarked for inner-city schools as battle lines are drawn over who should receive new education funding.

Traditionally underwritten by local property taxes, state schools have begun receiving money from state governments to address disparities between poor and affluent communities.

But rural schools say they have just as many problems - including limited resources and disadvantaged students - as urban schools.

Meanwhile, taxpayers in more affluent suburbs are bristling at being forced to cover the rising cost of running schools in other sections of their states.

The conflict is most pronounced in New Jersey, a state where differences between the urban north, the rural south and the suburban central sections are pronounced.

Southern rural districts have sued, saying they have just as many problems as the 28 "special needs" urban school systems that will receive an extra $246 million (Pounds 152 million). By comparison, the rural schools stand to get only about $16 million in state aid.

The lawsuit filed by the rural districts notes that courts have found "there is a constitutional guarantee . . . that every student is entitled to a thorough and efficient education" and that "this guarantee applies to all New Jersey schoolchildren". It says rural communities need more money to meet rising educational requirements just as urgently as their counterparts in urban districts.

Meanwhile, another group of 250 suburban New Jersey schools has formed the Association of Middle Income Districts and sued for controls on the amount of money being taken away from them and siphoned to the cities and the countryside.

"We're almost having taxpayer revolts in some of those communities," said Ken Hall, the organisation's president.

Similar class warfare has broken out in other states.

In a reversal of New Jersey's troubles, conservative lawmakers in Alaska want to replace the funding formula under which that state pays the cost of education in rural but not urban districts.

"We want a formula that's simple and we want a formula that's fair," said Gary Wilken, the Republican state senator who wants to replace the current system with one that would distribute money based on enrolment.

A recent nationwide study found that students in urban schools did considerably worse than their counterparts in non-urban communities. Most urban fourth-graders could not read or understand a simple children's book, while most urban eighth-graders tested could not use arithmetic to solve a practical problem.

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