The harsh, if not cruel, reality of the state’s education funding formula was poignantly laid bare by a former Worcester public school teacher at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday, where legislators, educators and others joined in support of the PROMISE Act, the latest effort to make education spending more equitable across the state.

Should it pass, the bill would add about $1 billion a year in K-12 education spending. Failure to pass the bill, according to Zena Link, an English teacher at Worcester's North High School for several years before leaving to teach at Weston High School this year, would result in the continuation of "grossly" underfunded school districts.

On Wednesday she spoke about what that means for many students.

“I have witnessed how the lives of those who have been forced to do without unfold, sometimes to dismal results, and sometimes (to) irreversible results,” she said.

“It is obvious that students from well-funded public schools will have vastly more opportunities in life. This disproportionately affects students from urban, and gateway and rural districts, as well as those with learning disabilities, from low-income families and English language learners - students with brown and black skins.

“Having worked in an underfunded district, I have observed the direct correlation between underfunding, and mental health challenges, narrowing curriculums - (which) goes hand-in-hand with the excessive testing and the criminalization of students.

“In addition to the psychological and physical stresses associated with limited financial resources, students in underfunded districts dealing with mental health or special education needs face increase feelings of demoralization, persistent anxiety and disruption of their learning environment.

“So when we talk about addressing social and emotional needs, we also have to see how we are complicit in causing them.”

One can debate the correlation between educational funding and students' academic and emotional outcomes, but not the reality of the inequity.

While, as Ms. Link noted, “every school district” is underfunded under the state's current funding formula, the gap is significantly greater in districts like Worcester.

According to Brian Allen, chief financial and operations officer for the Worcester public schools, when you account for health insurance and special education costs that are currently not part of the state’s funding formula, Worcester public schools are being underfunded by some $70 million a year.

That lost funding, he said, would have gone to hiring more teachers, providing more content and enrichment activities, adjustment counselors, technology, and professional development - essentially preventing schools from underperforming and from necessitating higher levels of state and local intervention.

One can debate the level of state education funding necessary, but not the state’s obligation to adequately fund its schools.

That was decided in 1993, when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state has a constitutional responsibility to educate all its students, and while it left it to legislators to determine the adequacy of that funding, it nevertheless provided the following guidelines:

“An educated child must possess at least the seven following capabilities - sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization; sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable students to make informed choices; sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation; sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness; sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage; sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.”

In 1999, the state was once again taken to court, Hancock v. Commissioner of Education, for failure to provide all students with an adequate education. The court, however, citing the Education Reform Act of 1993 and the subsequent increase of more than $1 billion in education funding, ruled that the state was making progress in meeting its obligation.

Nevertheless, a study by the Massachusetts Senate has concluded that Massachusetts “is again among the states with the most unequal funding for local schools.”

And according to S. Paul Reville, professor of practice of educational policy and administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an influential force in reforming public education in the state, he would find the state “delinquent in meeting the agreed upon obligations embodied in MERA 1993 in which every district was guaranteed an adequate budget.”

“The findings of the recent Foundation Budget Review Commission provide clear evidence that state revenues have not kept pace with expenditures in certain key categories,” he said in an email.

“The Commonwealth has failed to provide adequate funding for education as defined by the Education Reform Act of 1993.”