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Antonio French opens office in Ferguson

Antonio French, 36, sets up a fax machine in his new office in Ferguson on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2014. French plans to do voter registration out of the office. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

Academics say one of the best ways to escape poverty is to get a college degree. Economists say math and science degree holders will be among the most sought after in the future U.S. economy.

With both of those factors in mind, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday that he will direct $500,000 in federal dollars toward expanding math and science tutoring to low-income students in north St. Louis.

Nixon described the money as a necessary boost in a community where some students don’t always know when they will get their next meal.

He said children raised in similar conditions are five times more likely to drop out of school compared to their more affluent peers.

“Education is a value that we share as Missourians and as Americans,” Nixon said. “Everyone deserves a quality education.”

The money will be used in a partnership between the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the North Campus after-school tutoring program started by St. Louis Alderman Antonio French.

The North Campus offers tutoring and other after-school tutoring programs to students in the third through eighth grades.

The program is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone concept, which seeks to remove educational barriers many poor students face — such as a lack of access to medical care.

French said the North Campus currently serves 150 students each day, keeping them until 7 p.m. A typical day includes two hours of tutoring followed by two hours of enrichment — chess, reading or sports.

Currently, the organization is funded through a maze of private donations, grants and funding from local public schools, French said.

A $500,000 boost would allow the organization to increase the number of children served by 350, bringing the total to 500.

“There is no greater tool to reduce poverty than through education,” French said.

Carole Basile, dean of UMSL’s College of Education, said the university’s role has not yet been defined, however, the school is expected to help decide how the money would be best spent.

UMSL is also expected to come up with a system to measure how effective the infusion of new money is in order to help lawmakers decide whether to keep funding the program year after year.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said improving math and science proficiency among low-income students is an imperative.

“This is dear to my heart because a large number of my constituents are below proficiency,” she said. “These are parents who can’t afford to pay $65 an hour for someone to tutor their children.”

Math and science, she said, are key subject areas low-income students should strive to improve upon.

“If you are not proficient in those areas, you are out of the loop when it comes to getting a job,” she said.