During the FY2017 budget process and the months afterward, there were some small successes. Although they dismissed our request for an impactful increase in investment for youth opportunity programs, Mayor Strickland and the Memphis City Council did support spending allocations for expanded library hours, which may impact youth. We also saw the city make attempts to address some of the concerns we raised, such as community centers offering after-school programs, a new literacy component added to city summer camps, and an interactive reading program, although these did not come with the funding investments needed to maximize their effectiveness and impact.
More recently, the city council voted in December to support city-wide pre-kindergarten. These allocations and endorsements are a good start, but they should be backed with full funding for high-quality implementation if they are to be effective.
In 2018, as we move toward another budget process, the development of the Memphis 3.0 strategic plan, and county elections, we have another chance to impress our desire for greater investment in our community’s youth upon our elected leaders and would-be leaders. The time is right to let elected officials know that academic and economic opportunities for our young people are our highest priorities and should be backed by a substantial investment of our tax dollars.
As a result of the community dialogue engendered in part by Fund Students First and continued in our Momentum Memphis campaign, we are, in fact, beginning to see some movement in the right direction. Earlier this month, it was proposed that the City Council consider a modest expansion of the MPLOY program with an additional 750 opportunities by 2020. Although he was one of the few City Council members who would not meet with us last year to discuss more city support for youth, we’re glad that Councilman Ford is endorsing an increase in summer jobs as a community priority.
We can leverage this proposal and similar sentiments into a complete, thorough, and effectual package of fully funded support programs that engage young people in our community and offer them the hope of brighter possibilities for the future. We can act now to turn the statistics around and to open up new pathways for transitioning opportunity youth into successful adulthood, both for their sakes and for ours. Our future as a city, as a community, is inextricably tied to our young people.