(Written January 7th, at about 1 am while watching members of the US House continue argument over opposition to the certification of electoral votes from Pennsylvania)

I woke up this (Wednesday, January 6th) morning to finalize and upload new rubrics for discussion prompts in my Contemporary Issues class. In those rubrics I laid out the criteria of success for building an effective argument – to make a clear claim that directly addresses the prompt or situation, to provide evidence for that claim from diverse sources, and to explain how that evidence supports the claim.  To demonstrate an exemplary argument in the discussion board, also anticipate and respond to counter-claims and identify particular solutions or resolutions, as applicable.

The second part of the rubric lays out the requirements for demonstrating the ability to disagree with people whose experiences and/or ideas are different from yours, while maintaining community and respect – criteria such as engaging with ideas while connecting with people, by doing things like addressing each other by name and identifying points of agreement where possible. 

Hours later, we (my 9th and 10th graders and me – I want to make sure to clarify the “we” I refer to) began class with a recap of the news, as we usually do – recognition of the proceedings in the Congress over the electoral college certification had just begun and that there would be objections. We also noted that one GA Senate race had been called and the other was pending (it was called within the hour – what an hour in US history!). We proceeded to share our hopes and dreams for 2021, as it was our first day back together after winter break. Following, we listened to excerpts of the Trump/Raffensperger call from the New York Times Lesson of the Day this week and began to discuss the goals and arguments of both Trump and Raffensperger. We were just turning to analyze it using the rubric when student DMs and news media alerted me that the US Capitol had been breached by the mob of insurrectionists. 

I quickly wrapped up the day’s essentials, and we watched together as white terrorists wearing Trump gear proclaiming “Civil War,” waving banners proclaiming “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President,” and bearing firearms and zip ties and explosives, invaded the US Capitol building (a building in which on my last visit I had the miracle of passing John Lewis in the hallways of the Congressional offices, but that is a story for a different day). I had almost no words for my students except to say that what we were watching has never happened before. While our (and when I say “our” here, I mean “America’s”) past has been continually violent, this particular scenario has never occurred before in our country – a domestic attack on the US Capitol over the refusal to allow a peaceful transfer of power. Even so, certainly to anyone with knowledge of history or who has heeded Dr. Angelou’s words about what to do when people show you who they are, it came as no surprise. But that’s the thing with violence – it doesn’t have to be surprising to be traumatizing.

As we watched, most kids were quiet.  One young man made references to the fall of the Reichstag in Nazi Germany, and one young woman stopped us all before class ended and required we note the contrast between the response of police to the armed Trump insurrectionists today and their response to peaceful BLM protesters just months ago. The young people know what’s happening, even if adults all the way up to the heights of power will rush back as quickly as possible to “nothing to see here” or “let’s move on from this” and “restore order.”

As I sit up tonight (Tuesday and into Wednesday) and watch Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania (among others), seated just three days ago, based on November election results, continue to oppose those same election results by which they claim their power and which have been refuted as baseless by their own state legislature and courts of multiple levels, I am wondering if I should go back and change those rubrics. As I consider the same rhetoric used in the call with which we began class and witnessed throughout the day from their feckless leader, I wonder what “success” is for which I’ve listed criteria. 

Perhaps I should adjust them: your argumentation will be effective if – you claim a lie, repeat it loudly, cite no evidence at all or evidence which you generate out of thin air. Continue talking until even you can’t remember how your explanation supports your claim. Perhaps I should characterize effective discourse with your peers – name call, threaten, beg, plead, and well, anything you have to do to maintain your power – so long as your skin is lily white. If not, it doesn’t really matter how correct, dignified, affable, or brilliant you are, because people cannot hear your voice while they’re blinded by the color of your skin. 

But I won’t do that. For several reasons. 

First, because one of my great learnings of 2020 was that hopelessness is a privilege. As I watch and read and listen to and follow and vote for and buy from Black organizers and creators and authors and leaders, I am held accountable to hope. And to recognize that their motivation, while it will create a better world for me and my own kids, too, lies in fighting for survival, for the right to send their kids out to play in the park without fear of being killed. I don’t think they’re organizing in Georgia because they love the Democratic Party so much, they’re doing it because they refuse to give in to the white supremacy actively suppressing their vote in ever-more-creative ways. They’re doing it because they know the stories (and often the families) of Ahmaud Arbery and Jordan Davis shot in cold blood because of the level of melanin in their skin, and even 17-year-old John Lewis getting his head bashed in on a bridge 55 years ago, are not simply historical events, but daily possibilities.

The stories and arguments of Black leaders today are echoes of Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, and countless others – a deafening chorus of truth.  And while white ears may have opened briefly this summer and maybe for a moment this afternoon – as Van Jones, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and Joy Reid, among countless others, tried to explain – I fear that they will be closed again by morning, trying to explain today’s events without directly engaging race.  That’s one of the strongholds of our whiteness – we attempt to explain a situation before it is even over, using the language and examples with which we are comfortable. As I write, I am listening to that happen overnight in the very place where a treasonous mob waved a Confederate flag hours ago. 

In my other classes I’ve taught the last two days, we have closed class, and begun the semester with the poem “Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky Scott Bey Jones.  And I’m glad we did – because it will take bravery to hold the conversations that we must have.  I think the rubric for those conversations might need to include these criteria for success, beyond discussion norms: the imagining of a different reality, the courage to enact those visions, and the hope of a beloved community. Although bravery is needed for the conversation, what will take real courage is transforming them from hot air to effective action. 

As I sit awake watching the House continue to deliberate beyond 1 am, I am reminded of staying awake the night of the 2016 election – wondering if what I had taught my own children about extending kindness and seeking the common good was folly.  I am reminded of imagining the worst-case scenarios under a Trump presidency – many fears that have come true.  It is disconcerting, even terrifying, but certainly not surprising.  This day is the natural end of the hate and fear emboldened by the Republican leadership, arm-in-arm with Christian nationalism, and fed by desperate white supremacy. 

As I acknowledge my fears, I also recognize where my trust and my hope lie.  First and ultimately it lies in the sovereignty of a merciful God, whose dominion has no boundaries, and if it did, those boundaries would most certainly NOT line up with the boundaries of the (Dis)United States of America.  

And second, my trust and hope lie in the recognition that while this day might be one of the scariest of my lifetime for me, I can follow the leadership of Black women and men, who have walked through and continue to lead despite and through trauma that I will likely never know. The leadership and mobilization that liberated itself from slavery 150 years ago and flipped Georgia yesterday is more than worthy and able. 

And third, I can love well and learn with my own three kids and the young people in my classroom. Today and every day, as we build brave spaces in beloved community. And also as we learn to build effective arguments, if ever they become relevant again.

Yesterday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a direct assault on democracy.

A violent, white supremacist mob incited by the President tried to subvert the result of a free and fair election.

In stark contrast to the often brutal suppression of peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, yesterday’s weak and even permissive law enforcement response to rioters brutalizing police officers, looting and pillaging Congressional offices, and disrupting the peaceful transfer of power was white supremacy and privilege on display.

Is the bar for acceptable behavior now at rock bottom?

That depends on how people who actually value democracy, decency, and justice respond.

Anyone who grew up in, has spent significant time in, or has studied democracies that became dictatorships knows that nothing is guaranteed.

Some elected and corporate leaders who encouraged or enabled yesterday’s riot appear to have come to their senses, at least momentarily, but it is up to us to prevent craven political ambition and greed from ever again trumping democracy and decency.

This morning, as I do every morning, I prayed: for God to grant me the courage to change the things I can, for the Lord to make me an instrument of peace and to let me sow love where there is hatred and light where there is darkness.

Individually, can we shore up the foundations of our shaky democracy or root out the deeply embedded racism that infests our society? 

No, but what we do individually and what we collectively insist that elected leaders and corporations do matters a great deal.

So, let us recommit to fight together today, tomorrow, and every day in this pivotal year for democracy, decency, and justice with courage, a deep sense of urgency, and a loving spirit.

As an education advocate and Stand supporter, your support is vital to helping us achieve our mission of securing educational equity for students in Memphis and Shelby County. That’s why, on this Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll consider becoming an Education Warrior by making a gift to Stand Tennessee and fund our community work.

Donate $25, and we will send you our limited edition “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt to wear with pride! This shirt is designed to show our dedication to fighting for racial equity and justice within local law enforcement and the educational equity we seek for our children’s future.

Donations received will go towards the resources needed to continue our work in our four areas of concern: Facilities and FundingGraduation Success for College and CareerBreaking the School to Prison Pipeline, and Community Investment for All Youth. You can give your donation through our donation link by clicking herePlease allow 1-2 weeks for delivery time.

Thank you in advance for your donation and continued support of our fight to make equity in education a reality for our children in Memphis. Feel free to keep up with us and our work via our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages.

Here’s your friendly reminder about our Education Equity Happy Hour that will take place tomorrow at 5:30 pm via Zoom. Join us for a casual conversation with Momentum Memphis Education Task-Force leaders, parents, and community partners that believe in educational equity for every child in Memphis and Shelby County. To attend, please use this link to register.

You’re also invited to pre-register for our virtual joint Momentum Memphis Education Task-Force meeting on December 7 via Zoom at 6:00 pm. Hear updates about our advocacy efforts that support a fair and equitable future for our children and generations to come. We’ll also discuss ways to get involved in our work to change the narrative of what equitable access to education looks like for our Shelby County Schools system.  To attend, please click this link to register.

See you soon! 

We’ve made some changes to our weekly schedule to include in-demand workshops that were requested by Stand supporters like you, community leaders, and parents. Here’s what’s coming up!

 To accommodate back to school and work schedules, we’ve switched “Cardell’s Soapbox” to air every Wednesday at 5:00 pm via Facebook Live.

Hear Memphis Director Cardell Orrin share updates on Memphis and Shelby County government and ways you can take action to make equity in education a reality for all Shelby County students. If you have a question, topic idea, or want to be featured in the next episode, please email us at [email protected].

On Friday, September 4, we will be having our bi-weekly “Education Equity Happy Hour” starting at 5:30 pm via Zoom. Meet and hear from Momentum Memphis task force leaders, who will discuss updates on our advocacy work within the community and share opportunities for how you can join us in our efforts to make equity in education a reality for all students in Memphis and Shelby County. To attend, please use this link to register.

Due to the Labor Day weekend, we’re moving our monthly virtual joint Momentum Memphis Educational Task-Force meeting to Monday, September 14, at 6:00 pm. Hear updates on our advocacy efforts to make educational equity a reality for all children in Memphis and Shelby County and learn how you can join the Momentum Memphis Coalition. To attend, please use this link to register

As a reminder, we’re still accepting submissions for our This is 2020: Meaningful Stories, Artful Healing contest! The deadline for students in grades K-12 to submit their piece is Thursday, September 10. Please send all submissions with the words “Artful Healing” in the subject line to [email protected]

See you then!

August 25, 2020 

Dear Superintendent Ray and Shelby County Schools Board, 

Four weeks ago, Superintendent Joris Ray announced that Shelby County Schools would be starting school virtually. While we commend that the safety of students, teachers, and community members is being prioritized, we are writing to you because we believe that there has not been an explicit pathway for parents to navigate finding childcare support. As you know, our district serves over 100,000 students and families, yet there has been no explicit information provided about how the district plans to support all parents inevitably affected with this ongoing challenge. After the initial announcement about virtual learning, a graphic was shared that included 33 community partner childcare sites, yet there were very limited spots available at each with no information on the different processes like explaining how to sign up, costs, and who would be watching students at those respective sites.  

Through speaking with community members and even teachers with children in Shelby County Schools, it is very clear that the cost of childcare will be a huge burden to many families on top of the challenges already created by the global crisis. We appreciate that the district has been working on a partnership with the YMCA, and we are aware that the YMCA has stated that they had the capacity to serve the needs of 10,000 students. However, considering that approximately 23% of SCS families reported that they preferred in-person learning on the summer survey and around 38% could have defaulted to in-person, there could be about 35,000 students who still need care not even considering those families who were making arrangements for children while opting into virtual instruction. The average cost of childcare in Memphis, TN, is $270.75/week or $1,083/month per child. This can be a great financial burden for families considering that, according to the US Census data, the median household income in Memphis is $39,108 (monthly income being $3,259). One SCS teacher who is struggling to find affordable childcare said, “I want everyone to be safe and healthy, first and foremost. But it makes it extremely hard for our family. My husband can’t work remotely. It will be very, very difficult for me to manage multiple children and effectively teach.”  

While the partnership with the YMCA and promoting other community organizations is valuable, we also recognize that working with community sites might not be enough to address the enormous childcare needs. Currently, the Shelby County government is setting up socially distanced learning pods for their employees’ children. These pods include a teacher or childcare provider with the expectation to assist students with technology, monitor breaks, and serve lunch among other duties. This could be a realistic model for how SCS could set up their own sites. Since SCS had already begun preparation of its own facilities for in-person learning along with collection of the necessary PPE and cleaning materials, we wonder if those efforts and resources could be retasked to expanding childcare capacity across the city and county. It seems that SCS has the greatest capacity in facilities and personnel to assist in addressing these needs, and additional resources needed could come from savings from buildings not being open across the county and requests to the county for CARES Act Funds in support of childcare. Our hope is that SCS could significantly expand free childcare options across different neighborhoods to match the needs of each community.  

With the urgency of the school year beginning soon, we recognize that questions about childcare must be answered as soon as possible. Families need affordable and accessible childcare support, and are left with concerns as they prepare for this year. Additionally, there are also many teachers with their own children who are looking for clarity on what supports will be provided for them as they are forced to balance both facilitating instruction and taking care of their own children at home. Many teachers we have heard from are struggling to identify childcare and the funds to pay for it. We believe that our teachers deserve support to ensure that they have less to worry about for their own children as they give their time and talent to effectively teach our children either from school or their home.

Ultimately, we are requesting clarity and greater support for families navigating childcare needs. In addition, we would like to know whether the district will take the initiative to provide its own childcare learning sites to meet the unique needs the COVID-19 pandemic has created? We look forward to your response. 


Healthy and Free Tennessee 

Memphis/Shelby County United 

Memphis Lift 

MICAH Education Equity Task Force 

Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter 

Stand for Children – Tennessee  

Whole Child Strategies 

Workers Interfaith Network 

I am not my hair. I am not my skin. I am not the country I was brought to. I am not the air that circles my lungs. I am not what I call myself. But do you see me as I am or what do I look like to you? As a young black woman in a racist society, my reality is a jungle that constantly implies that I am nothing but an animal- not a human being who takes pride in her blackness. Don’t take away my pride! I am not pleading. I am not going to say please to anyone.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand what black actually means in America. I am grateful to have a mother who sat down with me and explained to me what it meant. The power of being black and the beauty we all have as black people, in my opinion. I love having my black skin, culture, and tradition. However, I had to see the devastation black people have to go through for myself to fully have an understanding of what it’s like to be black in America. I remember I was in the 8th grade and I was listening to my teacher explaining the history of African Americans. He expressed the importance of understanding the depths of our history and to love our blackness.

That was the same year police brutality became a huge topic in American society, of what I remember. I knew it wasn’t a new situation in the black community, but my peers and I were new to this. I was scared. I was thinking about how this will affect everyone in my generation. How we will be too afraid to step out of our house to go to school or to the park with the police behind us.

As a black person in America, I am forced to understand the story of my life and others who look like me. Although I have to fathom the life of black people, I have a better understanding of who I am and my mission. I realized the world doesn’t value me- that is my story. Systemic racism is a part of our lives and I had to come to terms with it when I was in the 8th grade even though I didn’t know the term or the definition of it. I still knew, by experience, I will have to live with it and profoundly educate myself.

Systemic racism was designed to hinder black women, black men, and black children from achieving a peaceful life without worrying about being a personal target for those who hate us. I hate that this is our reality. Reality makes us grow up too damn fast than we should, and it tells us that we are too grown to think for ourselves. A reality that is made to teach us that our skin is not beautiful and our style is not presentable even though I love who I am. I know there are black girls, like me, who don’t because of lack of representation. Or black boys who don’t have any clue of what they want to be when they grow up.

I don’t want to be in my fifties and see this repetitive trend of racism my grandchildren will have to experience. But the reality is, it is going to happen. I am angry and I have the right to express my feelings for something that should have ended decades ago. I don’t want to be negative about the legacy of the country that allows history to repeat itself, but there will always be a ‘bigoted racist a**hole.’ 

My feelings towards police brutality are as typically expected, ANGER. Rage is a better word to describe my hostility towards the justice system that isn’t invented to protect the people who have built this country on their backs. Am I being too honest? I couldn’t possibly be because I am right. My blackness comes first before anythingthat the world will offer me in return. Silence isn’t enough.

Here is a friendly reminder to join us today for our virtual joint Momentum Memphis Education Task Force Meeting at 6:00 via Zoom! Hear updates about our advocacy work as a coalition and learn how you can get involved in our efforts to make equity in education a reality for all students! 

Even if you can’t make it today, you’re also invited to join us on Tuesday at 2:00 pm for “Cardell’s Soapbox” via Facebook live! Hear the latest news in Memphis and Shelby County government and ways you can take action to make equity in education a reality for all Shelby County Schools students. Have a question you’d like to ask? Please send them to [email protected].

Still can’t make it? Well, grab some lunch and join us this Thursday at noon for a rebroadcasting of outreach coordinator Rob Brown’s “Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline pt.2” via our Facebook page. Join Rob in the comments for a discussion on how we can work as a community to combat racial injustice that plagues students and citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. If you missed part 1 or any of our workshops, they are archived on our website.

Hope to see you soon! 

“We don’t want to see Targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burned to the ground.” 

Killer Mike pushed through tears to offer those words of resolve to his city as it reels from the response to police violence against black and brown bodies, most recently the modern day lynching of George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose life was taken by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s excessive use of force. 

Only ten days prior to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor was murdered in a botched “no-knock” warrant raid. Louisville Metro Police Department recklessly entered her boyfriend’s residence with no warning, indiscriminately firing their weapons, killing Breonna with 8-shots, in a search for someone who was already in custody. Louisvillians have taken to the streets as the officers are still employed and no charges have been filed. 

Before the loss of George and Breonna, Ahmaud Arber was murdered in broad daylight while jogging for exercise, by a racist father-son vigilante duo. No charges were filed until months later, when video of the execution was leaked and public outcry forced the hand of law enforcement.

Lest we forget, the Memphians who were also brutalized in recent years. In 2018, Martavious Banks was shot by police during a pursuit on foot but was fortunate that his injuries were non-fatal. But another Memphian’s fate was more grim. In 2015, Darrius Stewart, a 19 year old young man, was an unarmed  passenger riding with a friend, the night he was detained in a traffic stop. He was shot and killed by an officer when the stop became physical; the officer was never charged with a crime and is currently receiving a monthly retirement pension granted on claim of post-traumatic stress disorder.  

These stories are unfortunately only a few recent accounts of untold black lives that have been taken with impunity. As we memorialize and honor the lives of George, Breonna, and Ahmaud, we also remember Philando, Sandra, Freddie, Alton, Tamir, Trayvon, Michael, Atatiana, Eric, and countless others taken too soon. The uprising across the nation is a cry that, “enough is enough!” In order for a lasting peace to be achieved, there must be a commensurate change and deep justice.

Dr. King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Memphians have long suffered under inequitable policing conditions, and we say the bend must be sharper. The activist community of Memphis has joined together to demand policy changes that’ll ensure that the lives of black and brown citizens will be acknowledged, protected, and valued at the same level as their counterparts. In addition to our ongoing efforts in education,, these are a few criminal justice demands we lift up:

  1. Release all protesters who were arrested as a result of exercising 1st amendment rights to protest AND drop any charges, pending or otherwise 
  2. Investigate law enforcement brutality and misconduct during recent protests with public reporting of findings and a commitment to hold officers accountable for any wrongdoing
  3. Reallocate funding from the police department to fund alternatives rooted in community health and crisis response
  4. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds by Memphis Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies
  5. Require de-escalation as a first response by Memphis Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies
  6. Develop a Duty To Intervene policy that requires officers to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force for the Memphis Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office
  7. Require reporting by officers and deputies any time they point a firearm at a citizen
  8. Give the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) the power it needs to investigate and ensure accountability for police conduct and provide clear avenues for CLERB’s input on MPD training, policies, and procedures
  9. Include grassroots black and brown leaders and activists on the search and selection committee for the next MPD Chief
  10.  End money bail and stop predatory, ballooning penalties for traffic tickets, court costs, and other fines

Stand For Children Memphis acknowledges that the same system that perpetuates the indiscriminate killing of black and brown bodies also subjugates our children to substandard educational conditions. These issues are inextricably linked and as we knock down one barrier we put a dent in them all. In order to break the cycle of violence and undereducation in our communities, we urge you to support our initiative: A Moral Budget for Shelby County. We know the myriad obstacles to creating a more equitable landscape for students, families, and communities. A moral budget prioritizes people, not politics, profits, or posturing. When the Memphis City Council passed a resolution to allocate $5 million dollars of CARES Act funding to help close the “digital divide”–the discrepancy in availability of technological devices and internet access for students engaging in remote learning–they took a good first step toward fulfilling Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community.

At Stand For Children – Tennessee, we believe that words matter and, even more, we know actions must follow. We make this statement for the record to proclaim that Black Lives Matter and assert our solidarity with those in our Memphis streets and across the country raising up what should be an accepted fact. But, those are just words if we don’t work every day to push a  system bent with structural racism to find that arc towards justice. We commit to continuing the fight for equity in education and working with partners across the community to build equity and opportunity for the black and brown citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. It will take the village, but we can rise from these tragedies and ensure an equitable, new beginning for our children and community. 

Dear Shelby County Commissioners,

We are a group of community members from MICAH and Stand for Children who care deeply about education equity in our community. As many of you will remember from the 2019-20 budget development, members of our coalition attended all the meetings associated with the budget including community sessions, Shelby County Schools board meetings, and County Commission meetings in support of SCS funding requests. 

As SCS developed its FY21 budget, we strongly advocated for digital inclusion and equity, social-emotional learning, college and career success, as well as the comprehensive, equitable facilities plan. We remain committed and continue our efforts to address these issues throughout the year. 

While we recognize that local governmental budgets and opportunities for full public engagement will be impacted by the pandemic, we believe continuation of efforts and deeper investments are critical to the success of our students and the future of our county. 

We are deeply grateful for the Commission’s commitment to keep the current school funding level. We recognize the tough decisions the commission will face and are strongly advocating for you to fund the following items listed below. 

FY 2021 SCS Capital Request

We support the County Commission’s urgent call for SCS to provide the first time-ever comprehensive and equitable facilities plan, which SCS began many months ago. As we rebuild, we hope state and/or federal recovery funds will include infrastructure funds and want to ensure that the County and SCS are shovel-ready with plans to implement the long-delayed facilities our students and educators need. 

We ask you to support the recommendation of County Mayor Lee Harris for a $65 million additional commitment to build a new SCS high school in Frayser/North Memphis, which would build some equity across the county.

Digital Inclusion and Access

We ask you to join community organizations, community businesses, and philanthropic donations by allocating $ 2.5 million of the County CARES funding to Shelby County Schools’ digital access needs to close the inequitable divide of digital devices and internet access needed to support students and families in a distance learning environment.

SCS Freshman Academy (Freshman Success Network)

We ask you to provide the additional $1 million request for Freshman Success Academy so SCS can fund the program to continue the successful work of increasing the number of ninth-graders on-track. 

Social-Emotional Learning and Trauma-Responsive Schools

We ask you to support the additional $1 million request for purchase of a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. We support the district’s critical efforts to prioritize the social-emotional needs of our students in an effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline and become a trauma-responsive school district.  Additionally, the impact of COVID-19 amplifies the need to support our students’ social-emotional needs and learning.

Moral Budget

We support a property tax adjustment, and approve of the Mayors’ Vehicle Registration Fee increase. A tax adjustment will create additional funds for education and ease pressure on the County’s general fund at a time of strained resources, avoiding those untenable layoffs or cuts. The property tax rate was artificially lowered in 2017 to an unsustainable level, and our county has suffered since then with lack of investments to vital parts of our community.

The Vehicle Registration Fee has not been raised in close to 20 years. While keeping pace with the rate of inflation would anticipate it being $22 more, we support an increase of $16.50.

While, based on the mayor’s proposed budget, this further reduces the portion of property tax dollars going to education, it maintains the current level of education funding and assists in providing additional CIP funds for school facilities. We support the pennies on the tax dollar returning to education when County revenue recovers with additional education funds going to targeted initiatives that benefit our students with the greatest need.

If County Commissioners are able to balance the budget with no layoffs and no cuts to service, we still support the increase in revenue. Investments in transit through Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) and targeted education support are just two areas where we know additional funds are urgently needed and where additional revenue could be applied for the greater benefit of Shelby County and its citizens. As SCS and the other County public schools determine what is needed to prevent learning loss in the coming year, more funds and resources will be needed for public education. With growing concern about the resilience of our voting system amid a pandemic, our community also needs strong County investment for absentee voting, from public education about how it works to sufficient staffing and training to be sure all mail-in absentee ballots are properly counted.

Some protest property tax increases on behalf of low-income County residents. However, it is low income families who rely on our public services, like the Health Department, public schools and transit, and cuts that affect those services hit them the hardest. Because discrimination in the private sector is so powerful, public jobs like those on the chopping block are some of the most important stepping stones into the middle class for families of Color – threatening the benefits and jobs of these public servants is a move against the financial stability of Black and Brown communities. The median home value in Shelby County is $86,000. An $.08 cent property tax adjustment would mean half our County residents would see their annual property taxes increase by $17.50 or less, that is an easy choice, to keep our County services strong.

There is no way around the fact that our County needs to expand its base of revenue. Failing this could mean cutting as many as 150 jobs, from an already skeleton staff, or slashing important benefits like parental leave. It could mean our Health Department and Division of Community Services will be unable to meet the current and potential resurgent demands of addressing COVID-19 in our community. It definitely means that the County continues to operate at a deficit to support those in our community with the greatest needs. Some of the most recent cuts approved by the Commission would turn back needed grant funds for vital services. All of these effects will ripple through the economy and send a message that public servants and residents are expendable.

Our coalition of advocates meets monthly to move forward issues that will support the future success of our students and educational equity, a true cornerstone for a successful county. We know that it is imperative for the county to place a clear focus and priority on our children, families, and communities. We look forward to future engagement to move our county forward in a positive direction. We are available to provide further information and receive questions and comments.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership,

 MICAH Education Task Force and Stand for Children