Adult Education 

Umpteenth time’s the charm?

The Community Task Force on Quality Education was in full force Wednesday as representatives from the city, the county, the business community, and even the school systems came together for a planning meeting. The group, formerly known as the Community Task Force on Funding Public Education, was convened by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton to look at various plans to fix school funding.

I know it’s early, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this group. For one, they realize that school funding is not necessarily “all about the children.”

Memphis City Schools superintendent Carol Johnson said that some people don’t see their stake because the issue is so narrowly focused on children’s interests. “It’s in everybody’s best interest that children get a quality education,” she said. “It becomes essentially about community well-being.”

The argument is often made that it costs les to educate children than to incarcerate them later in life. But that’s only the beginning. What about the potential economic impact that’s lost when a person doesn’t graduate from high school? Providing quality education directly benefits the children who receive it, but the community also benefits residually in property taxes, sales taxes lower spending on law enforcement, etc.

“Those kids are going to be the doctors and nurses who take care of me when I’m older,” said task force member Russell Gwatney. “If I don’t educate them, I’m in trouble. It’s about all of us.”

I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that our kids deserve less of an education. The problem we have now is that we can’t pay for it.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to be selfish for a minute. I like my money. I like to use it for nice things and vacations and the occasional doctor’s bill. And while I understand how public educations benefits the community, taxes are out of control. We have to find a way to fund education that doesn’t cripple our community in the process.

The committee’s next three meetings will be to educate themselves on the current situation. The group was asked to come back to the mayor with a recommendation in 90 days, but that seems unlikely.

“I’ve reviewed materials dating back to ’77,” said committee member Keith McDonald, mayor of Bartlett. “I’ve seen some of the same topics we’re discussing today in all that material. To say that we can fix this in 90 days—it’s a bit unrealistic.

Some committee members wanted to pus their meeting schedule and have a recommendation in time for the County Commission’s next budget. Others were wary of an accelerating timetable because the complexity of the task.

But this is a situation that’s only going to get more dire as time goes on.

“Our fiscal year starts July 1st,” said Johnson. “If we don’t know what we’re allocated, it’s difficult to plan effectively. We have to take the most conservative approach.”

For the committee’s recommendations to have an impact on MCS’ 2006-2007 school year (not next year’s but the year after that), they have to be made by next January.

“For fiscal year ’06, we’ll start planning in December ’05, January ’06. We have to be pretty far ahead in our thinking. Anything that comes later [than January 2006] would be much later for us. The consequence would be a year later because of the way we plan in advance.” Johnson said. “The time frame needs to be aggressive.”

As a compromise, the group talked about suggesting short-term strategies.

“I’ve been to too many meetings where they start flag-waving and Pollyanna-ing and nothing is accomplished,” said county commissioner Walter Bailey.

Will things be different this time? I’m no Pollyanna, but I’d like to think so.

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