It's in the voters' hands. The Memphis City Council puts a half percent sales tax increase on the ballot. If it passes, the money from the tax hike will pay for pre-k programs for Memphis children. But, it would make Memphis sales taxes, the highest allowed in Tennessee.
This is a response to all of the cuts to pre-k programs in Memphis. This year the federal government slashed funding to head start early education programs and the new unified school system didn't have the money to make up the difference.
So council members Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn proposed a plan for the city of Memphis to support its own pre-k program for families who can't afford to pay for it themselves.
They're asking Memphis voters to support a tax increase. If passed it would take the sales tax rate from 9.25% 9.75%. That rate would be in line with the Memphis suburbs.
The money raised would pay for the education programs.
The proposal's sponsor's say that would be a game changer and it would help fight the poverty cycle in the city. They cited research showing students who go through pre-k do better in school long-term and have fewer discipline issues.
Jim Strickland says, "If
every 4th grader could read at 4th grade level it would transform this city.
And I'm not saying pre-k is going to do that but a lot more 4th graders will be
able to read at 4th grade level and it will have a big impact on Memphis."
Harold Collins says, "We have to get creative enough to say not only will we help the child at pre-k we're also going to step in and deal with the poverty that the pre-k kids are under and if we don't do that then we're just spinning our wheels."
The proposal passed unanimously but some council members including councilman Harold Collins expressed concern it doesn't get at the heart of the problem of poverty in Memphis.
Mayor A.C. Wharton is supporting the tax increase and he assured council members those issues will be addressed.
The council is asking the election commission to hold an election in October.
There's already a campaign formed to support the referendum; a group called the Memphis Pre-k initiative.