As school districts across the state struggle to balance their budgets, legislators are considering changes to how the state funds its schools. This debate over education spending started four years ago after an outside commission determined school districts were being underfunded by as much as 2-billion dollars... with low-income and immigrant students bearing the brunt of this funding shortfall.

At a hearing Friday on Beacon Hill, lawmakers presented some varying approaches to change the current formula. WGBH Radio's Bianca Vazquez Toness, from our Learning Curve team, has been reporting on this issue. She was at today’s hearing and spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the proposals presented to the public. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: I understand that there are three proposals on the table today, talk about those.

Bianca Vazquez Toness: That's right. There's three proposals that are largely the same. They all address some of the existing problems that all school districts have. The big difference is the amount of money behind those proposals and how they would be paid for. Joint legislation out of the Senate and House would spend upwards of $1 billion, and it's not clear what time period that would go over, and it's not clear how that would be funded. And then the governor's bill would probably spend about half that from existing revenues. And in the Senate bill, a lot more of that money would go to poor districts — districts that are educating lots of low-income students.

READ MORE: How Much Should Massachusetts Pay To Close Gaps Between Rich and Poor Students?

Howard: Can you talk about the current formula and where it falls short?

Vazquez Toness: So essentially the state looks at a community and says, 'Okay, this is how much educating kids in your school should cost, and this is how much we think your community can contribute to that, and this is how much the state is going to contribute to that.' But the problem is that the way that they have estimated a lot of different things that go into educating kids — for instance, the cost of teachers' health insurance and the cost of special education — those costs have just ballooned in the last 25 years and haven't been readjusted. So that's a problem across the entire state in most school districts. And most of these bills are addressing that.

There are other problems that people say exist in especially low-income districts, which is that a lot of research says and suggests that it costs more money to close achievement gaps, to offer kids who come from poor families — especially when they're in schools with high concentrations of poor students — to get them to the same level and offer them the same type of education that other kids in wealthier suburbs are getting. So the formula accounts for that and sends more money to districts that are educating low-income kids. But a lot of folks would say they're not sending enough. And the Senate bill sends way more. And the governor's bill sends some, but not nearly as much.

Howard: Now that these three proposals on the table, if there were a compromise, what might that look like?

Vazquez Toness: That's a good question. Last year, there was not a compromise. The big thing that people just don't agree on here is how much money should be spent in districts that educate a lot of low-income students to close achievement gaps. That's the big disagreement.

READ MORE: How Massachusetts Pays For Its Schools

Howard: Did any members of the public speak today?

Vazquez Toness: Yes, there are parents here, there are advocates here. And one of the tensions that's playing out is that none of these bills addressed something that a lot of parents want, that a lot of advocates want, and some legislators want, which is more accountability. They're saying, 'Yes, okay, we know that a lot of districts are underfunded, they need more money, but none of these districts offer a way to make sure that districts are actually spending the money in the places that really need it or on the things that people know work.'

Howard: So accountability is part of the problem?

Vazquez Toness: Accountability is part of the problem, and no one can point to anything in these bills that they think is adequately addressing that.