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As Congress continues to rework education funding formulas, Utah - which now receives the least federal money per student of any state - is slowly gaining ground and money.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee this week passed its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which reformed formulas slightly in Utah's favor.Aides to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said it would give Utah schools $34.7 million a year in federal grants for "educationally disadvantaged" children.

That's $1.64 million - or about 5 percent - more than current formulas give the state. And it is about $650,000 more than the House-passed version of the bill would give the state.

And it's far better than the changes proposed by the Clinton administration would do. They would actually cut the already low levels in Utah to $28.6 million, from $33.07 million.

Current formulas are based largely on how much individual states spend per student. That hurts Utah because its per-pupil expenditure is the lowest in the country. The low contribution is a reflection of population realities. Utah has a huge number of children per taxpayer because of large families.

Changes adopted by the committee help Utah by shifting emphasis away from states' per-pupil spending and giving bonuses to states that pay large shares of their tax base for education (which Utah does) and bonuses for taking steps to equalize revenues among school districts (which Utah does).

Luckily for Utah, Congress has for the most part ignored Clinton administration proposals to shift more money to concentrations of poor children in urban areas. That would tend to help states with many big cities but hurt rural states.

The Utah delegation for years has said federal formulas are unfair, and members have pushed for changes that are finally coming through regularly scheduled reauthorization of education acts.

Hatch, a member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said the good changes so far - especially overcoming the Clinton administration proposals - "would not have happened if we hadn't been raising Cain for the past several years."

He added, "The formulas are still not good enough. I will try to make them more fair when the full Senate debates them" - which likely will be the last chance to make any major changes to formulas for several years.

When the Senate completes its version of the bill, a House-Senate conference will likely try to work out differences and adopt a final version.