SPRINGFIELD — Aspiring cardiologist Pauline Nizeyimana is one of 30 students in a chemistry class at Central High School, so she and her classmates have a hard time getting extra help from the teacher.
In Chicopee, Madison Hartling is one of 37 students in an Advanced Placement English class. She and her classmates have learned how to turn on broken computers by sticking the end of a pencil in the hole where the start button should be and twisting it around with the hopes it will connect.
When Gladys Franco’s first-grade daughter struggled to learn to read, she was able to get extra help. But other children in her Springfield elementary school had to wait because there were not enough reading specialists to go around.
Recently hundreds of teachers, parents and students from Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, Southampton, Northampton, West Springfield, Longmeadow, Ludlow and other communities gathered at Springfield City Hall to call on legislators to adopt the Cherish and Promise Acts, which would increase funding for public schools and colleges by $1 billion to $2 billion across the state.
The bills are based on recommendations from a committee that reviewed the 25-year-old formula that sets state aid to schools. They would increase money in underfunded areas of employee health insurance, special education and programs for children who are learning English. They also would raise funding for districts with more low-income children.
Teachers also gathered for rallies in Pittsfield and at the Statehouse in Boston for a day of action to support the Fund our Future campaign.
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“Our children can’t wait. This is the social justice issue of our time,” said Maureen Colgan Posner, president of the Springfield Education Association.
Springfield students said they feel cheated, saying their schools are not offering the same programs high schools in wealthier communities can.
“The reality is that our schools in Springfield don’t have what we need to compete with students in other towns with more resources,” Nizeyimana said. “I have two younger brothers. They deserve every educational opportunity that students in wealthier communities get.”
The Fund our Future campaign also calls for an increase in funding for state colleges to prevent tuition from rising and make it easier for students to concentrate on classes.
Students at Holyoke Community College are working as much as 60 hours a week while going to school. Some face homelessness, struggle to feed themselves and come to class too tired to focus, said Stephanie Marcotte, who teaches at the college.
“When we underfund these institutions, we aren’t giving our students their best chance,” she said.