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

For years, our local officials have taken an austere approach to funding our city and county governments resulting in a lack of investment in desperately needed areas such as education, transit, and neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on the challenges of our community that have suffered from severe underfunding, in addition to the virus specific issues that must be addressed. COVID-19 has produced a financial strain on the Shelby County budget, presenting the possibility of cuts that could drastically affect the educational future of students in Memphis and Shelby County, as well as resulting in a loss of up to 150 jobs from County staff, slashing of significant benefits, and other service cuts.

Stand has joined with the Memphis & West TN Labor CouncilMICAH, and other community groups to demand better for our county with a campaign for a moral budget!

Take action now to tell the County Commission and Mayor that we need to invest in our children and ensure no staff suffer job and benefit losses during this pandemic!

Every day, County workers subject themselves to the possibility of being infected with COVID-19, working in identified pandemic hot spots and environments where proper sanitation isn’t necessarily a priority. These workers, who could easily be a loved one in your family, may not receive the pay, protective equipment, or healthcare they deserve. As one Commissioner proposed, some may be furloughed or lose parental leave.

That’s why we are asking Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and the Shelby County Commissioners to raise new revenue to restore the County budget fairly and equitably.

Raising new revenue like the Vehicle Registration Fee, as proposed by Mayor Harris, to $16.50 would assist in stabilizing the budget to ensure that the funds for education continue for our children and that benefits for County front-line workers remain available. The Vehicle Registration Fee has not been raised in 20 years, and even keeping up with inflation would anticipate it being $22 more. In post-COVID-19 times, this would also ensure additional funds are available for investments in education and transit.

Whether the Commission takes this route or not, we ask that the Shelby County Commissioners present another alternative budget that will put people first and will restore the County budget in a way that will be equitable for all. County residents and workers should not be held accountable for COVID-19’s impact on the Shelby County budget nor the havoc it has caused in students’ and teachers’ lives.

If you agree that Shelby County Mayor, along with the Shelby County Commissioners should put people first, take action by signing this letter to show your support for a moral and equitable 2020-21 Shelby County Budget. If you haven’t already, check out this op-ed for more information on why the  Commissioners and Mayor need to raise new revenue now!  

Community Resources for Students and Families

As we all continue to monitor and tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus in our community, Stand remains committed to keeping you informed with the latest news and up-to-date information about resources that are available during this public health emergency. Visit our online resource center to find local resources in Memphis and Shelby County that may be helpful to your family.

 We know students and families are facing many struggles during this time. We want you to know we’re listening. Take our COVID survey to tell us how your family is dealing with these challenging times.

While we’re continuing our work in advocacy and supporting educational equity across our community, this month’s update will focus on the current COVID-19 crisis and provide information we hope is both helpful and informative.

Safer at Home Executive Order

We’re sure you’re aware and hope you’re following closely the Safer at Home Orders that were issued by Governor Bill Lee, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. We are in this together and efforts for social distancing are important to protect each other and assist in “flattening the curve” to support our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

 A simple point of advocacy in these times is ensuring that you, your family, and everyone you talk to understands these orders are in place and commits to prevention techniques:

1. Stay home as much as possible (only going out for essential needs)

2. Keep a safe distance (6 feet) from people when you’re out

3. Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when your out

4. Wash your hands often

5. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands

6. Cover your mouth and nose for cough and sneezes 

7. Stay home and self-isolate if you feel unwell 

State Testing and Other Education Issues

Tennessee lawmakers voted to suspend TNReady testing and other mandates for Spring 2020. On April 9th, the TN State Board of Education will meet and consider priority concerns impacted by COVID-19 including issues related to graduation requirements for seniors, special education program and services, grades, attendance, and other rules changes needed.

After this meeting, we should expect SCS and other districts to make more detailed announcements about what will happen for students in the 2019-20 school year.

SCS Student Meal Distribution

The YMCA has partnered with Shelby County Schools to ensure the distribution of free student meals at 60 designated sites. Meals are available from 11 am – 1 pm, Monday through Friday for all children 18 and under and the child must be present to receive a meal.

Along with meals available at all Mid-South Food Bank mobile pantries, SCS will have a mobile pantry in the Board of Education parking lot (160 S. Hollywood) every Wednesday, 10am–2pm where families can receive a 14-day food supply pack.

Shelby County Schools on TV

Shelby County Schools has partnered with WMC5 to broadcast Pre-K-12 lessons to support continued education at home. You can catch daily lessons streamed live on C19TV, WMC-TV 5 affiliate stations, and Bounce-TV.

Help Students Stay on Track

With schools closed indefinitely, we want to help equip parents with tools and resources that will assist in continuing education at home. You should first check with the resources provided by your child’s school and the SCS site for instructional resources. In addition, check out our blog post on local and national COVID-19 resources, then explore our online resource center for other toolkits and activities your family can do at home.

Ensuring Digital Equity for All Children

It’s wonderful that so many community partners are stepping up to support students with remote-learning resources while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the reality is that many children in our community do not have the devices or internet access at home they need to take advantage of these resources. This “digital divide” only exacerbates and reinforces equity issues that already exist in education.

This is unacceptable, which is why we’re working every day to ensure that all students have access to 21st-century technology that will allow them to succeed at school and later in life. That’s why we’re proud to support our friends at SchoolSeed (in partnership with SCS) in raising funds to eliminate digital barriers to accessing online academic resources.The SCS COVID-19 Relief Fund will help provide needed WiFi access and purchase digital devices for low-income families in Memphis and Shelby County. We’re asking our supporters to take action by joining us in making a $25.00 donation towards bridging the digital divide.

Your contribution is an investment towards a stronger and more resilient community – now and for years to come.

Census 2020: Don’t Count Me Out! 

 t’s time to take the Census! This constitutionally mandated population survey happens every 10 years and forms the basis for distributing federal funds to local communities and determining legislative representation. Your participation in taking the Census counts more than ever and will help our city plan for the resources we need. Taking the Census also helps our children get the school funding and facilities they deserve! 

 Don’t miss this chance to stand up and be counted! Complete the Census form online at census.gov.

With the sudden spread of COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County, Stand Tennessee is committed to providing updates on educational and community resources that are available throughout the city. Here is a list of resources that you and your family can access during this difficult time.

COVID-19 INFORMATION

For the latest updates on the spread of the coronavirus, Use this portal created by the Shelby County Health Department for updated information and county-wide resources to use. You can also direct specific questions or immediate concerns you have about the virus by calling the Health Department Hotline at 833-943-1658.

MEAL DISTRIBUTION

Shelby County Schools and community agencies are ensuring that every child in Memphis and Shelby County receives a meal during the district closure. Click here to find a designated meal distribution site near you.

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

Along with meal distribution, Shelby County Schools has made it easier for parents to help students continue their learning at home. Printed learning guides are available for pick-up on Mondays and Tuesdays from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm at all SCS meal distribution locations. Digital learning guides are available by clicking here

The Amazing Educational Resource Group has developed a list of educational companies that are offering free subscriptions to their curriculum due to school closures. It is advised to use this list in conjunction with the learning guides from SCS for extra practice with your student(s).

You can also check out this list of free online instructional materials and additional educational activites compiled by Stand for Children’s national staff.

ACTIVITIES AT HOME

Need something fun to do at home? How about a virtual trip to a museum or state park? You can also check out this recent I Love Memphis Blog to find other virtual events happening around the city.

As we’re sure everyone is aware, the spread of the coronavirus has reached Memphis and Shelby County, leaving families to take extra precautions to ensure that their children and loved ones stay healthy during this critical time.

At Stand, we’re concerned for our whole community, the impact on our most vulnerable citizens, and potential barriers children and families will experience during this national emergency. We hope to assist by helping to spread information and support community efforts from our governments and direct service agencies as they become necessary and available.

Our office will be closed from March 13 – March 30 while staff will be working remotely to keep our advocacy efforts moving forward. We will make determinations about meetings and gatherings as needed with up-to-date information and a focus on safety.

Stay tuned to our social media pages to find out about available community resources and tips on how you can protect yourself and your family. If you’re aware of resources that we should share, please send them along to us!

Exercise precautions and stay safe and healthy!

If you came to the Shelby County Education Committee Meeting on January 8th, you were there waiting for over two hours to hear the results and lessons learned from the Reimagining 901 Input Community Sessions that were held in various schools across Memphis.

I want to thank those of you who came out and waited with us to hear the committee report, and I also want to ask for your support again in attending tomorrow’s education committee meeting at 11:00 am. You can meet us at the Shelby County Commission Building located at 160 N. Main Street. Tell the security officer that you are attending the education committee meeting and they will direct you where to go.

Your attendance at the Education Committee Meeting is vital to our children getting the 21st-century school facilities they need and deserve! If you can’t make it to the meeting, be sure to take our SCS Facilities Survey and tell us the current state of your child’s school facilities. If you are a Shelby County Schools teacher, please take the SCS Educator Facilities Survey and let us know the working conditions of your school. 

 See you there! 

Join Stand for Children, MICAH – Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope and 90ONE Organizing Network for Equity for the Shelby County Commission Education Committee Meeting on Wednesday, January 8th, at 11:00 am.

Come out and hear Shelby County Schools – SCS administrators share the next steps on the facilities planning initiative and what they learned from the Reimagining 901 Community Input Sessions.

Your attendance at the Education Committee Meeting is vital to our children getting the 21st-century school facilities they need and deserve! It is time for the Memphis community to STAND up and demand change for our children.

Be apart of that change by attending the meeting on Wednesday! If you can’t make it to the meeting, I urge you to take our SCS Facilities Survey and tell us the current state of your child’s school facilities.

Hope to see you there! 

Two years ago, I started as a third-grade reading teacher in Shelby County Schools (SCS). I knew that third grade was the strongest predictor of long-term learning success, but I did not know the complexity behind the immense literacy gaps within our district.

Three out of four SCS third-graders are not reading on grade level. In 2018, only 27% of SCS third-graders were proficient on the reading state assessment. I’ve seen the impact of these statistics, as many of my students entered the year behind. 

Recently, SCS developed the “3rd Grade Commitment” to correspond to revisions of its policy for promotion and retention. Currently, second-graders are promoted if they earn above a D (70+). This new policy requires the district’s 8,700 second-graders to meet at least 8 of 12 points under a new success criteria. Students who do not meet the criteria must attend summer school, and, if still not successful over the summer, will have 45 days of the following year to catch up before having to repeat the second grade.

SCS states that the 3rd Grade Commitment will “hold district and school leaders, teachers, and all stakeholders accountable” for students’ success before third grade. With the plan for implementation in 2020, I am left wondering, what new measures will hold adults accountable? Also, if students are given new requirements to move from second grade to third grade, what new supports will they receive?

While focusing on literacy is crucial, it cannot be an isolated effort. To change results, the root causes for what left students behind in the first place must be simultaneously considered.

When I think about my students who needed literacy intervention, I know that support goes beyond academics. Two of my students lost family members to gun violence this year. I vividly remember when they came to class crying, as I helped them make cards that day because they couldn’t focus. They showed resilience but had anger management issues and emotional outbursts throughout the year. Consequently, they had multiple in- and out-of-school suspensions and were penalized for using the only coping mechanisms they had to deal with their trauma. 

Research shows that two-thirds of Memphis children who are treated at Le Bonheur have at least four Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), traumatic events that can range from neglect to poverty to the incarceration of a parent and exposure to violence, and one-third have food and housing insecurity.

If my students who were exposed to violence had fallen under this new policy, how would SCS provide new trauma-responsive supports to ensure that they are given every opportunity to succeed? 

Two other students at my intervention table often missed instruction because they were chronically absent. Some weeks, they would only come to school for one or two days. One of them always got picked up early, missing countless instructional hours. He spent the year working on sounding out words on a first-grade reading level (2-grade levels behind). Last year, 12% of SCS students were chronically absent, meaning that they missed 18+ days of school.

If my chronically absent students fell under this new policy, how would SCS establish new measures to communicate with families and ensure their attendance?

SCS must also be strategic in evaluating the negative impacts on retaining students mid-year. Retaining students in elementary grades is less harmful compared to later years, but SCS needs to communicate to families that retention is not a punishment. It will be critical to ask, what supports will be given to students who are forced to integrate into a new grade mid-year?

Thousands of students may not be promoted based on the new criteria. We must ensure that literacy funding is prioritized and supports are put in place to balance out the negative repercussions of retaining students at a large scale. This policy change is an attempt to transform a local culture that is too accepting of low literacy for our children, and we need to recognize that a real 3rd Grade Commitment must come from our entire community.

A real 3rd Grade Commitment means investment in true, universal pre-K that is not solely needs-based. It means stressing the importance of K-2 foundations and making sure that the universal phonics curriculum recently funded in the SCS budget is a high-quality, evidence-based choice.

SCS must invest not only in literacy laureates (teachers who coach part-time), but also in full-time literacy coaches, because research shows that they have the most impact on student achievement. In addition, we should look to identify opportunities to reduce student-teacher ratios as a way to further enhance learning.

Holistic support that addresses non-academic challenges that students face requires increased school support staff, such as counselors, social workers, and trauma-responsive family engagement specialists. These investments should be intertwined with implementation efforts for the recently passed SCS resolution to become a trauma-informed district. An enhanced communication between all entities in the district will be necessary to enact a strategy for comprehensive student development

If you are a parent, teacher, or advocate, plan to attend one of the 3rd Grade Commitment community meetings to make your voice heard. If you have questions or have suggestions for the community resource toolbox, contact [email protected]. If you’re ready to get involved in community advocacy for the 3rd Grade Commitment, join us at Stand for Children in our Graduation Success for College & Career Task Force.

Lastly, you can join Chalkbeat journalists on August 22nd at an early literacy listening tour to ask questions, gather more information, and learn about opportunities to connect with Chalkbeat in the future.