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Can Changing School Funding Formulas Help The Most Vulnerable Students?

In a neighborhood dotted with tidy brick row homes, Bayard Middle School rises like a drab brick fortress, virtually windowless. A chain-link fence frames an American flag on the roof above the concrete entrance. The nearly 50-year-old school spans three city blocks on South DuPont Street, a thoroughfare named for one of the most celebrated and wealthy families of this tiny state.

The children at the school are almost entirely black and poor. Many of them, like Taheem, are scarred by violence and loss.

While he was in elementary school, Taheem’s classrooms were clearly under-resourced, with a constant shortage of pencils and classroom floors so damaged that wood slabs were gouged out. But they had a librarian, and Taheem eagerly awaited his weekly visits to check out books. Bayard Middle School, when he arrived there, had a library, but no librarian, so most of the day it’s a dark, unused room. Chapter books slouch on unattended shelves. Faded posters peel off the walls. Occasionally, a glow illuminates a corner of the room where children’s faces are softly lit by a row of desktop computers. They practice for standardized tests that reveal Bayard to be the lowest-performing school in the state.

Various attempts to help the school — including with federal money — have, so far, been unsuccessful.