Paying for Pre-K 

The city moves toward a fully funded pre-Kindergarten.

City officials announced a creative plan last week to provide a big chunk of the $16 million needed to fund universal pre-Kindergarten for children in Memphis without raising taxes.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has long pushed for universal, needs-based pre-K, and now the city has a plan to generate $6 million for it by 2022.

The city needs to enroll about 8,500 in pre-K, and now 7,500 are funded. But a federal grant that funds 1,000 seats expires next year.

"Pre-K is a shared goal of our community," Strickland said. "It's so that every child has a better opportunity to read. So that every child has a better opportunity to take advantage of the momentum our city offers. So that every child gets a level shot at a better outcome for their life.

"Making sure that our kids who need it the most have access to quality pre-K is one of the most important actions we can take today for the long-term improvement of the city we all love."

click to enlarge Mayor Jim Strickland announces pre-K plan. - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • Mayor Jim Strickland announces pre-K plan.

Instead of implementing a sales tax hike or putting another funding mechanism out for a public vote, the city proposes to use revenue collected from companies whose pay-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement has terminated and are paying increased property taxes.

Additionally, the equivalent of one penny from the existing city property tax rate will be used to generate the $6 million.

"This is a creative solution that doesn't touch what we're doing now with our operating budget — doesn't touch what we're doing with core services like police and fire," Strickland said.

The remaining $10 million gap will be filled by a number of different sources, Strickland said. All of the collected revenue would go to a fund managed by private nonprofit, Seeding Success, which is also raising money for pre-K.

The city's plan must be approved by the Memphis City Council on three readings in order for the ordinance to become law.

The mayor, along with city council members stand by the idea that early childhood education is a "critical component" of addressing the city's high poverty and crime rates.

Councilman Kemp Conrad said providing pre-K in the city should have a positive impact on the number of children living in poverty here.

"Today, 45 percent, or almost half of Memphis children, live below poverty," he said. "It's unacceptable, and I truly believe this plan will change that. I believe this is one of the most important initiatives in the history of Memphis."

Strickland said studies show that students who can read on the third-grade reading level by third grade have a 90 percent chance of graduating high school. This is a "clear indicator of why our kids need this incredibly important additional year of structured learning," he said.

"Making sure that our kids who need it the most have access to quality pre-K is one of the most important actions we can take today for the long-term betterment of the city we all love," Strickland said.

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