MarketWatch

CONSTRUCTION New Jersey OKs $12 billion for school facilities Lawmakers in New Jersey have approved a school construction plan that will spend $12 billion over several years to build and renovate schools. Gov. Christie Whitman called it "the most comprehensive school construction program nationwide."

The impetus for the record-setting appropriation was a 1998 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the state must upgrade facilities in 30 of its poorest districts.

The plan allocates $6 billion to cover 100 percent of the construction and renovation costs in those 30 districts. Other districts can tap into a $2.5 billion fund that will pay for 40 percent of their building costs. Local communities would provide the other 60 percent, or $3.5 billion.

To receive funding, a construction project must receive state approval.

FINANCE Wisconsin funding formula upheld The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that the state's school financing system is constitutional.

More than 100 districts had sued the state. They contended that districts' property values varied too greatly, and that the funding formula failed to equalize access to financial resources.

In a 4-3 decision, the high court found that the financial disparities among districts were not enough to prove a lack of equal opportunity for a sound basic education. "Wisconsin requires districts to fulfill a constitutional minimum educational offering, not a maximum," Justice N. Patrick Crooks wrote for the majority.

The Association for Equity in Funding, which represents the districts that challenged the system, said after the ruling it would try to persuade the Wisconsin Legislature to change the funding formula.

The court ruling can be found at www.courts.state.wi.us/html/sc/97/97-3174.htm.

REFORM Florida establishes charter district Many states have allowed reformers to establish individual charter schools, but Florida is taking the concept to another level. It has designated the 60,000-student Volusia County School District along the east coast of the state as Florida's first "charter district."

As it does with individual charter schools, the "charter" designation frees the Volusia district from many state regulations in return for assurances that student achievement will improve. The plan establishes 29 goals for academic performance, family and community involvement, and citizenship and character development.

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