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NPR Ed's 'School Money' Project Examines Finance Inequities

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NPR on Monday is launching a major report on K-12 school finance in the United States, focused on disparities such as two Illinois school districts where per-pupil spending is $9,794 for one and $28,639 for the other.

The project, "School Money," includes radio reports for the next three weeks on NPR's flagship news programs, collaboration with 20 education reporters at member stations, detailed spending data provided to the NPR team by the Education Week Research Center, and extensive Web stories and features.

School finance in the United States "is a system many Americans don't understand, or they take for granted," Cory Turner, the co-editor of the series, said in an interview. "It's a system that in a lot of places, for a lot of different reasons, is remarkably imbalanced."

Turner, a former senior editor of NPR's evening news show "All Things Considered," now edits and reports for NPR Ed, the network's content-rich blog and content collection of education reporting.

The School Money project emerged from weekly phone calls held by NPR Ed and the education reporters at local public radio stations. 

"We started talking about school funding lawsuits and every time it came up, everyone on the call had something to say," Turner said. "Just about every state has had one, some have had multiple suits, and there are about a dozen going on right now."

But Turner said just focusing on school finance suits did not seem the right way to go for such a dense topic. Instead, the project essentially examines how the nation pays for its schools.

That is the focus of the first week's package, which includes a lead story by Turner.

"I'm a radio guy, but I was determined with this project to make sure it lived and breathed online, too," he said. "So I'm writing really long, intense narratives, one for each week of the project."

The second week focuses on why money matters, digging into research about the power and limits of spending and its effects on the classroom and achievement. The third week is more political, Turner said, focusing on whether there is a fairer way to fund education.

Those longer stories by Turner will each link to reports by the local public radio reporters. 

Meanwhile, NPR Ed turned to the Education Week Research Center, the unit that gathers and slices and dices the data for the annual Quality Counts report, for a key part of the School Money project. Taking data on school finance from the Research Center's Quality Counts database, NPR developed an interactive map that readers and listeners can check to learn what their local schools are spending per student.

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