I wrote an article in June 2014 on the status of pre-K funding in Memphis. As a result, when a controversy flared up in July around where $3 million of pre-K funding would be spent, the local PBS station WKNO invited me to speak on its show “Behind the Headlines” and its radio station. I followed up those appearances with two enterprise stories on where the money was actually going to be spent, which the major local papers in the area had reported incorrectly.

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All of the stories and appearances appear below in reverse chronological order.

 

August 12, 2014

Pre-K money will be split between two suburbs, ASD and Shelby County Schools

More pre-K classrooms will be coming to four districts across Shelby County by Sept. 2.

Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, Bartlett City Schools and Millington Municipal Schools will each receive money for new pre-K classrooms, according to the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation, which is administering the funds.

The Shelby County Commission approved $3 million for pre-K expansion on July 21 butgave it to the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation, a small non-profit with a long history of supporting suburban schools. There was conflicting information coming from several commissioners, articles in the press and among the districts themselves in the days and weeks after the vote about where the money was going to go.

The foundation has decided that the money will be divided up proportionally according to how many students were enrolled in pre-K programs last year, according to commissioner Terry Roland. The only suburban districts to run pre-K last year were Bartlett and Millington. Bartlett has already started advertising spots in a new classroom and Millington’s superintendent said if Millington received enough money it would also add a classroom.

“That’s not us,” said Georgia Dawson, Millington’s preschool coordinator, just after the $3 million had been voted on by the commission. “Ours are voluntary pre-Ks from the state. You need to talk to Shelby Unified about their pre-K program. We have no involvement with that whatsoever.”

But commissioner Roland, who made one of the deciding votes on the issue, wanted to make sure the suburbs received their fare share.

“I’m not really even in favor of pre-K because a lot of people use it for a daycare,” said commissioner Roland, whose district covers the suburbs. “But I knew if Shelby County Schools was going to get some of that money, then the other suburbs deserved some too.”…. Read more here

 

August 4, 2014

Radio Two-way on WKNO-FM: County Commission’s Pre-K Funding Raises Questions of Trust

 

August 1, 2014

Appearance on Memphis’ PBS show “Behind the Headlines” 

 

July 28, 2014

Shelby County Schools’ pathway to pre-K funds runs through foundation with suburban roots

Shelby County commissioners who voted last week to spend $3 million on expanding prekindergarten access are finding that they don’t control where the money will go.

That’s because when the commission earmarked the funds not directly to Shelby County Schools but to a tiny local foundation, some members were unwittingly funneling funds to a group that has strong ties to the suburban districts that have left SCS. Shelby County Schools Education Foundation’s plans for the funds — which amount to 30 times what it has typically given to schools annually — are unclear.

Mayor Mark Luttrell will meet with the foundation tomorrow to plan out how the program will be administered.

Commissioners say funneling the funds through the foundation was politically expedient, and it’s not at all clear whether any suburban districts will apply for the funds.

But the prospect of the six suburban districts, whose students are far less needy on average than Shelby County Schools’ students, getting access to pre-K funding did not come up during the commission’s debate last week, which focused instead on whether SCS could be trusted to spend the money only on pre-K.

Terry Roland, a commissioner who represents a largely suburban district, said he had proposed earmarking the funds to the foundation rather than the district explicitly because he wanted the new suburban districts to have a crack at expanding pre-K, too. He also said he intentionally didn’t mention that during the meeting, because he knew some of his colleagues would object.

“That’s politics,” he told Chalkbeat Tennessee….. Read more here

Pre-K advocates pursue small strategies toward big goal

A coalition of pre-K advocates are moving forward with a collection of small strategies that they hope will result in every child being prepared to start kindergarten.  They are regrouping after losing a second referendum in November to fund universal pre-K with an increased sales tax.

“We have to be pursuing multiple strategies at the same time,” said Kathy Buckman Gibson, one of the leaders of the effort at the Chamber of Commerce. “Putting all our eggs in one basket is not going to move the basket sufficiently and as quickly as we feel we need to.”

Advocates contend that only 30 percent of students currently enter kindergarten are prepared for school and universal pre-K would fix that.  But the referendum to fund pre-K last November lost, in part due to criticisms that a sales tax disproportionately falls on the poor and that the revenues might be used to lower the property taxes of the rich.

Pre-K advocates at the non-profit People First and the Memphis Chamber of Commerce brought in stakeholders from across the city a little more than a month ago to discuss their next steps. The meeting included nearly 50 interested politicians, non-profits, philanthropists, professors, church and business leaders to brainstorm and discuss new ideas. Although they’ve stopped short of calling what came out of the meeting a full-on strategy, they are now pursuing several possible ways forward, including identifying new funding, raising standards for daycare centers, and even returning to voters to ask for more funding…. Read more here

More than 20 Head Start workers protested looming layoffs at Monday’s school board meeting.  Read our story here.

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