City announces $6 million plan to fund pre-K programs

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Just weeks before the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, City of Memphis is taking a huge step forward to advance one of the cornerstones of Dr. King's dream: education.

Mayor Jim Strickland and members of the Memphis City Council announced Saturday a $6 million joint plan to move forward with fully funded Pre-K.

They plan to do it by pulling money from two sources: expiring tax incentives or PILOTS, and revenue from one cent of the current property tax rate.

"It's important to note this is not a property tax increase," Mayor Strickland said.

The mayor and community leaders said education is a critical component to addressing the city's challenges.

"Reducing crime and creating workforce opportunities all starts with education," Mayor Strickland said.

"Education and crime go together like a hand and glove," Memphis City Council member Berlin Boyd said.

"This is not just an education strategy but a poverty strategy," Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said.

Studies show that by third grade, students fall behind if they are not reading at grade level.

"Patrice Robinson could have been a statistic because I could not read at the third grade level in the third grade but a teacher and the community supported me," Memphis City Council member Patrice Robinson said.

Currently, 7,500 seats of Pre-K are funded based on enrollment of 8,500.

A federal grant that funds 1,000 seats expires next year, meaning the gap could be as much as 2,000 seats.

The city hopes to provide the $6 million by 2022 towards the $16 million need to fully fund Pre-K.

"The goal is to have 90 percent of children are kindergarten ready by 2025 and right now that number is less than a third, we have a lot of work to do," Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad said.

The proposal will be formally presented to the Memphis City Council as an ordinance on March 20.

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