Debate continues over how to fully fund Pre-K in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A County Commission meeting designed to clarify how Shelby County will fund universal pre-K education left participants with more questions than answers.

"We have to put some skin in the game when it comes to children in this county," Commissioner Melvin Burgess said.

An expiring federal grant combined with the desire to expand pre-K to anyone who wants it has Shelby County and Memphis leaders questioning all aspects of pre-K funding.

Following an hour-long debate on the topic, Burgess said more information is needed.

"We just want to make sure that all the numbers are together and all stakeholders understand who's giving what, so we can move forward," Burgess said.

Non-profit Seeding Success, Shelby County Schools, Shelby County and the City of Memphis all hope to expand pre-K to anyone who wants it.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has earmarked an additional $2.5 million in next year's budget to set aside for 2019--when a federal grant currently subsidizing pre-K expires. The county's additional funding would expand to $5 million in later years.

Commissioner Steve Basar said the county should fund more next year to start the process of pre-K expansion.

He's pushing for an addition $2.5 - 3 million to add 15 classrooms and 300 seats.

"By adding it in now, it's going to be hard for someone on the next commission to reduce the funding. The pressure will be on to keep the funding at its current levels," Basar said.

Basar's plan is one Luttrell's administration is calling ambitious. Luttrell said the final amount the county will contribute will come to do what the commission decides.

"Our budget hasn't been approved yet. That's still in discussion and the commission will ultimately decide what they want to earmark for pre-K," Shelby County Finance Director Wanda Richards said.

The committee discussion how much will go toward pre-K will reconvene next Thursday to try to nail down a recommendation to take to the full Shelby County Commission.

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