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Worcester School Principal Argues State's Education Funding Process Is Dated

BOSTON (CBS) -- Sometime this month, lawmakers on Beacon Hill will try to tackle an issue that affects every child in the state: school funding.

Some cities, like Brockton, New Bedford and Worcester, say the system has not kept up with changes in expenses or demographics, and they may sue the state to change that.

Under the current system, establishing school funding begins when the State Department of Education calculates a "Foundation Budget."

This factors in the number of students, the demographics in each school district, and how much is needed for other categories – like teacher pay and building maintenance.

Once the "Foundation Budget" is calculated, the state figures out how much the local district can pay, and then kicks in the rest.

Then cities and towns can add their own money on top of that figure, -- that is where many feel they're being short-changed.

Lincoln Street School in Worcester (WBZ-TV)

The students at Lincoln Street School in Worcester share their Chromebooks – there is one for every three students. Principal Shannon Conley said it represents a big problem.

"They all need 21st-century learning skills," she told WBZ-TV. "We don't have the technology that we need, that's the pen and paper of today. No longer are we asking our students just to do their tests on paper, we're asking the kids to take their tests online…you can't just plop down a Chromebook in front of a kid one day and say surprise, it's MCAS!"

Lincoln Street is a school where the student body is 80 percent low income, 70 percent live in public housing, and for half of the students, English is not their first language.

Conley foresees this as a long-term problem: "They need so many different things in order to be competitive because they are going to become part of a workforce and they will be the driving force of our economy."

Lincoln Street School has one Chromebook for every three students (WBZ-TV)

There are 250 students at Lincoln Street School in grades K through sixth grade. According to the 1993 Budget Formula (the "Foundation Budget"), they should receive $115,000 a year for instructional support – like Chromebooks – but the school only receives 10 percent of that figure: $11,000.

Principal Conley argued that the old formula has fallen behind the rising cost of living and changing demographics in Worcester.

So what does her school do without?

"We no longer have a gym, we don't have a cafeteria space, and those are basic things at this point. Any school you think would have. Schools now that are making 'maker spaces' for kids, they have STEM and STEAM rooms for kids to explore... and we don't have an auditorium, a gymnasium or a cafeteria."

Lincoln School Street Principal Shannon Conley (WBZ-TV)

There are no smartboards either. Conley has gone to Home Depot herself to buy a shower board that she then installed over old-fashioned chalkboards. One teacher even started a GoFundMe page for a classroom projector screen.

"We're depending on the kindness of strangers," Conley said, "and that isn't how it should be."

If given the opportunity to speak with state legislators, Conley would say, "All our children across the Commonwealth deserve to have the same base education. They deserve to have access to technology. They deserve to have classrooms that have maker spaces. That's what the 21st century looks like, you know, we can't continue to live in the past. And we need to start addressing the needs of the future."

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