By Zena Link
A s stark disparities in funding and resources among Massachusetts school districts become increasingly public, allusions to
Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities are cropping
But let’s get beyond fiction. A tale implies that
there are imaginative, often exaggerated elements
to the narrative. My experiences as an educator
— seeing firsthand the difference between a well-funded school district and a grossly underfunded
one — have shown me the very real impacts of
inequity. I’ve witnessed how the lives of those
who are forced to do without unfold, sometimes
with dismal results.
I am grateful to have had the experience
of working with incredible young minds in very
different places — but it is obvious that students
from well-funded public school districts will have
vastly more opportunities in life than those from
These are real concerns, not tales, and
they disproportionately relate to students who
have learning disabilities, are from low-income
families, or are English language learners.
While working in an underfunded district,
I observed the direct correlation between a lack
of resources and mental health challenges, a
standardized curriculum, excessive testing, and the
criminalization of students.
Contrast this with the well-funded district
where I currently work. The differences are
glaring: the small class sizes, the modern and
efficient technology, the arts programming, the
extracurricular activities, and the number of
special education support staff.
Seeing the very real impacts of inequity
These students have the benefit of a state-of-the-art theater and music program, a fully
staffed library system, opportunities to travel
abroad, open-campus policies, student exchange
programming, reasonable adult-to-student
ratios, multiple and meaningful field trips, and
internships. Moreover, there are adequate numbers
of nurses, guidance counselors and mental health
support staff. These students are valued members
of the school community.
In the poorly funded district in which I used
to work, these same opportunities did not exist.
Suffice it to say that additional financial resources
were desperately needed — and still are.
Disparities of opportunity cannot be addressed
with standardized testing, a revised curriculum,
better relationships with local police departments,
or restorative justice circles. Instead, it is time for
Massachusetts to take a long look at its foundation
budget formula, which was created 25 years ago
and is still in use, to determine the real cost of
educating students in each district.
Under this formula, every public school
district is currently underfunded. In wealthier
districts the figure might be $100,000 per year or
less, but in poorer urban districts, the underfunding
can amount to tens of millions of dollars each year.
Additionally, in the better-funded districts,
teachers’ salaries are higher — and workloads
lower — than in poorly funded districts. In the
better-off districts, educators are invested in and
seen as the valuable professionals they are, rather
than being seen as replaceable, especially when
they bring up concerns about their underserved
students. In my underfunded district, I spent
thousands of dollars of my own money to buy
materials for my classroom. In my well-funded
district, there are abundant supplies.
I’ve also watched how the inequity of mental
health care plays out in vastly different districts.
I’ve seen how social and emotional needs are or
are not nurtured and how students with untreated
trauma are funneled into the school-to-prison
pipeline. In addition to the psychological and
physical stresses they face due to limited financial
and social resources, students in underfunded
districts who are dealing with mental health or
special education needs face increased feelings of
demoralization, persistent anxiety and disruption
of learning. Often, these anxieties are made worse
by overcrowded classrooms and inadequate
A persistent lack of funding prevents districts
from providing what they should: a well-rounded
education, complete with art, music, theater,
school clubs and other activities, all in a nurturing
environment with a diverse curriculum. As a
result, students experiencing perfectly normal
reactions of anger, stress and grief may find
themselves expelled, or even arrested. This
happens in underfunded districts at an alarming
rate. Students should never be criminalized
because of a lack of education funding.
By bringing an awareness of culture and an
understanding of the true cost of doing without to
the current funding debate — and by giving every
child an adequate opportunity for achievement —
we will begin to genuinely honor all communities
and realize the righteousness of educating students
to be productive members of society.
Zena Link teaches English at Weston High
School. She taught previously at North High
School in Worcester.
Retirees step up to participate in FOF advocacy
By Scott McLennan
M TA retirees are playing an important role in the Fund Our Future campaign, devoting time to advocate for bills that
will improve the state’s investment in public schools,
colleges and universities and providing insight into
why this fight is so important for Massachusetts
Retired educators were prominent at State House
events announcing the Promise Act, which is aimed
at improving funding for preK- 12 public schools,
and the Cherish Act, which would boost the state’s
investment in public higher education.
“We retirees are in an especially good position
to advocate for public education issues,” said MTA
Retired member Dennis Naughton. “Not only do we
have the experience in the classroom from which
to argue our case to legislators, but many of us are
lifelong MTA activists who have the know-how and
relationships to help get the job done on Beacon
MTA Retired Members Committee Chair
Jacqueline Gorrie said she witnessed the benefits of
reinvesting in public preK- 12 education that were
brought about by the 1993 Massachusetts Education
Reform Act. But she also saw funding dry up in
ensuing years as educators were asked to do more
“We were able to restore our curriculum review
committees. We were able to have hope that our
classroom resources would not be cut in the future,
but instead be sustained and increased,” she said.
“But as time passed, the money from the state
plateaued, as did the progress we were making.”
Continued on next page
Photo by Sarah Nathan
Malden Education Association President Deb
Gesualdo, left, and MTA Retired Members
Committee Chair Jacqueline Gorrie took part in
the launch of the Fund Our Future campaign.