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Friday, March 21, 2003

House OKs Changes in How School Funds Allotted

By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE The House unanimously endorsed a measure Thursday to update the state's system for financing maintenance and construction projects for public schools.
    The legislation was in response to a lawsuit brought in 1998 by several property-poor school districts that alleged inequities in how the state distributed school capital monies.
    State District Judge Joseph Rich after hearing complaints from the Zuni, Gallup-McKinley County and Grants-Cibola County school districts ordered the state to come up with a uniform funding system. In 2001, the state established a new financing plan.
    A standards-based program for distributing state monies will take effect later this year and make all school districts eligible for the financing.
    The legislation will provide a formula for distributing state aid.
    Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, said the measure will ensure the state equalizes capital outlay money similar to the way it equalizes operational funds for New Mexico's school districts.
    Miera said the proposal is fair to schools and meets the provisions of the court. He called the bill "one of the most important pieces of legislation" before lawmakers.
    Under the bill, the Public Schools Facility Authority will be created to oversee school construction and make sure the state complies with the standards-based financing program.
    The bill also requires school districts to develop and implement preventative maintenance plans.