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Taking On Poverty And Education In School Costs A Lot Of Money

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Kennedy Park, 4, is in her second year of pre-K in Camden. All 3- and 4-year-old kids qualify for two years of preschool in New Jersey's lowest-income cities.

There's a long-held debate in education. " 'Do you fix education to cure poverty or do you cure poverty to cure education?' And I think that's a false dichotomy," says the superintendent of Camden schools in New Jersey, Paymon Rouhanifard. "You have to address both."

That can be expensive.

In 1997, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state's school funding formula was leaving behind poor students. It ordered millions of dollars in additional funding to 31 of the then-poorest districts.

One result: Camden City School District spends $35 million a year on preschool. That buys two teachers for every 15 students and quality coaches for those teachers.

Four-year-old Kennedy Parker is in her second year of pre-K at Early Childhood Development Center. She can spell her name, count to 20 and write her ABCs, she says.

Has the money paid off? For more on Camden's story, click here.

The story of school funding in New Jersey's poorest school districts is part of the NPR reporting project School Money, a nationwide collaboration between NPR's Ed Team and 20 member station reporters exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students. Join the conversation on Twitter by using #SchoolMoney.

Copyright 2016 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit WNYC Radio.

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