As individual and organizational community stakeholders on the ground in Memphis, we are extremely concerned about HB 7073 – introducing a new, harsh blended sentencing scheme, as well as mandatory transfer to adult court, is not the answer to gun violence, and the bill is far too complex to consider in this short of a timeframe. While many of us have been engaged in conversations about sentencing reforms for older youth, such as blended sentencing or extended jurisdiction, the details of such a consequential change matter. 

Some representatives from the suburbs outside of Memphis and other parts of the state say that they are doing this “for the people in Memphis.” But the state representatives directly from Memphis and those of us on the ground are telling anyone who will listen that we do not want HB 7073. Here in Memphis, we don’t want to just do “something” for false appearances–we want to do the right thing for our young people and families across the state. Dwelling on this bill any further is a wasted use of time that should have been spent on protecting our children and communities with common sense gun safety legislation.

The concept of blended sentencing, which some stakeholders support, is for courts to have the ability to give older youth accused of serious offenses a juvenile court sentence and a suspended adult sentence that only comes into play if a youth is not able to be rehabilitated during their time in the juvenile justice system. As written, HB 7073 not only allows – but requires – juvenile courts to impose  years-long prison sentences on youth for offenses committed as young as the age of 14 without a jury trial or other due process safeguards, and does not allow the court to consider potential for rehabilitation in imposing that sentence. HB 7073 does not include any provisions for additional rehabilitative programming; the fiscal note of this bill only mentions increased expenditures related to incarcerating young people for longer. 

The Senate refused to consider more than 100 other bills in this special session because they were too complex to rush through in a matter of days, and HB 7073 is no different. We have only had the text of this bill for a little over a week. If we rush this bill through without properly vetting it and getting input from a wider range of experts and stakeholders, we run the risk of violating our young people’s constitutional rights. Blended sentencing schemes have been subjected to constitutional challenges in other states–careful drafting is necessary to ensure that constitutional rights of youth are protected.

HB 7073 is equally–if not more–complex than some of the others that were rejected, and it will have devastating impacts on a whole generation of young people and families across the state if allowed to go into effect as written and without more careful consideration. Sentencing reform is a topic that should wait until the regular session so that stakeholders not just in Memphis–but across the entire state–can weigh in on this important issue.

Organizations Signed on as of Monday, August 21:

A. Philip Randolph Institute

ACLU of Tennessee

African American Clergy Collective of TN (ACCT)

Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)

The Education Trust – Tennessee 

The Equity Alliance

Germantown Democratic Club

Just City

Memphis for All

MICAH

NAACP Memphis 

Stand for Children Tennessee

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Whole Child Strategies

When the governor announced the call for the extraordinary session on public safety, advocates and juvenile justice stakeholders were shocked to see only one item specifically related to guns, while 4 out of the 18 items listed were focused on juvenile courts, including expanding transfer to adult court, limiting expungements, and introducing a new blended sentencing scheme. When pressed on why, Republican leadership has deflected, saying that youth are responsible for a lot of crime. But their numbers simply don’t add up. 

Legislators claim over and over again that youth in Shelby County are more dangerous than ever, despite steady annual declines in youth arrests, and despite the fact that Shelby County’s rate of juvenile court referrals is lower than the state average. There is no data source that shows that youth are primarily responsible for Tennessee’s increase in gun violence–in fact, the data suggests that youth crime is unrelated. 

Over the past decade, crimes committed by youth in Tennessee have fallen by over 50%, for both serious and lesser offenses. Yet according to the Sycamore Institute, firearm related deaths in Tennessee have been steadily increasing for the past decade, and the Tennessee Department of Health’s 2023 Child Fatality Annual Report shows that firearms are the leading cause of death for children aged 0-17. This data shows us that youth are not the problem – widespread and unregulated access to guns is the problem.

The Sentencing Project, a national nonpartisan think tank, analyzed over a decade of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data, and found that the youth arrest rate has fallen 23% more than the adult arrest rate since 2011. They concluded that the data suggest that the juvenile system is more effective in reducing offending and arrests than the adult criminal justice system. Proposals to move youth into the adult system are likely to increase offending.”

Youth crime is down, and the data suggests that the juvenile justice system is more effective at reducing crime than the adult criminal justice system. So why are our elected representatives holding closed-door meetings to push more young people into the adult system instead of answering our direct calls to take action on gun violence?

Source: Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

The most extraordinary parts of this special session are its lack of transparency and scapegoating of Black youth in Shelby County. Make no mistake, we absolutely need to make improvements to continue supporting youth and families impacted by the juvenile justice system, expand prevention services, and keep our communities safe. But the positive changes we want to see will not come from a session in which legislators are using our young people as talking points to mask their continued refusal to respond to calls for common sense gun reform. 
No matter what happens during this special session, let’s make sure the legislature knows that we want and need common sense gun legislation to keep our children and communities safe. You can show your support by signing the petition launched by youth organizers in our community from the MICAH Youth Council: bit.ly/EndGunViolenceTN. It’s time for our legislators to realize that youth are not the problem—they’re leading the way in creating the solutions.

City redistricting determines which neighborhoods get resources and representation, and thanks to your emails and advocacy over the past year, the City Council answered our calls for a public redistricting process!

Earlier this year, we teamed up with the Shelby County Voter Alliance to gather support for including community voices in how our city’s maps are drawn, and we ramped up our efforts in September after the City Council voted to approve a new map drawn by unelected city attorney Allan Wade. We were told that the redistricting process would be an open one, redistricting meetings would appear clearly on the Council agenda, and that public input would be welcomed, but the new map was rushed through after meetings behind closed doors ahead of the special election in November to fill the District 4 seat vacancy.

In fact, this map was approved even though the August 23rd meeting was the first time the public–and even some of the Council members–had seen the proposed changes. Redrawing maps behind closed doors is undemocratic and shuts all of us out of important decisions that will affect our families, neighborhoods, and communities for the next decade. To get the word out and spur people to take action, we held a press conference and sent out a mailer to households around Memphis. We weren’t disappointed–Memphians flooded City Council members’ inboxes with emails calling for a fair process, and in October, City Council responded by passing a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas to establish a public redistricting committee! 

The first public committee meeting was held on Tuesday, December 13, and we’re very much looking forward to the maps and community-centered insight they’ll bring forward in the new year ahead of the city elections.

The Moral Budget Coalition came together during the 2021 Shelby County Budget cycle after seeing a need for including community voice in the funding priorities. We continued that work during the 2022 cycle by establishing the first-ever Community-Centered Budgeting Process. This process reflects individual, family, and neighborhood needs and calls on residents themselves to identify funding priorities and potential solutions based on their experiences.

To learn what the people of Shelby County prioritized most, we developed and distributed a survey and received over 300 responses. By a wide margin, respondents listed education as their top funding priority, followed by a tie for healthcare, mental health services, and housing. We then held a public session with the Mayor, County Commission, and community members to discuss the survey results and provide an opportunity for the community to get more information from the County government. 

We still have work ahead to make sure the County (and eventually City) Budget matches the priorities of the people, and our long-term goal is to get a resolution passed that officially and meaningfully embeds Community-Centered Budgeting into the official Shelby County Budget Process. We are now looking ahead to 2023 and working with the Shelby County Office of Innovation to increase transparency and meaningful collaboration between the government and the people they serve. We will provide more updates in the new year about where the process stands, and we look forward to increasing community engagement with the budget.

Schools should be a safe place for all students, regardless of their identities. But Tennessee’s anti-truth, anti-LGBTQ+, and censorship laws deny our children that safety by putting them at risk of immediate and future harm and leaving them with an incomplete, whitewashed version of history.

During the last legislative session, we worked closely with the Education Trust – Tennessee (EdTrust) and RALLY to implement a statewide digital campaign to advocate against several censorship bills. One of our big wins was when we successfully defeated HB/SB 1944 in partnership with the TN Youth Coalition. This bill would have removed certain books from school libraries that are written from or about people of color, discuss race, or tell LGBTQIA+ stories. 

EdTrust worked with the students at the legislature in Nashville to coordinate their efforts, while Stand worked on the ground in Memphis, where the main youth organizers were from, to support their organizing and advocacy strategy. We supported the youth in developing a digital action, holding a press conference, and visiting the legislature multiple times. These efforts culminated in their powerful testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, which helped give the final blow to defeating HB/SB 1944. 

Even though we defeated this bill, several other censorship bills still passed into law, threatening our students’ rights to an accurate, truthful, and complete education. We will continue to fight upcoming bills alongside our youth and our partners in EdTrust during the 2023 Legislative Session, and we look forward to more wins.

No matter our color, background, or zip code, voters should pick their leaders, not the other way around. We marked this Martin Luther King Day by partnering with Civic TN to gather signatures for a petition that tells our legislators that we need a fair redistricting process that keeps communities together and strengthens our voting power.

Every decade, we the people are supposed to get the chance to draw new district lines that will move us closer to “one person, one vote” and give our communities equal access to the decision-making processes that determine resources for schools, hospitals, roads, and other essential services that our government is supposed to fund. 

But that’s not what happens. 

More than 50 years after Dr. King started calling for fair redistricting, we are still fighting the same fight. Right now, a small handful of Tennessee’s politicians are taking it into their own hands to redraw districts across the state behind closed doors. Without public input and accountability, these politicians are free to draw districts that serve their own needs, often splitting up communities of color and weakening their voting power. A fair redistricting process is directly connected to voting rights, racial justice, and economic justice, and we must speak up as loudly and as often as possible to change this undemocratic process.

The districts that get drawn this year will shape our lives and communities for the next decade, and these unconstitutional maps will be up for a vote in both the State House and Senate as soon as Thursday, January 20. We need as many of you as possible to tell our lawmakers that nobody knows our communities better than the people that live in them, and we the people need to have a say in how our districts are drawn. Please continue the work to honor Dr. King by taking action with this petition and contacting your legislators to call for a fair and transparent redistricting process!

Distinguished Members of the Shelby County Commission,

The Moral Budget Coalition thanks you for the ongoing conversation around participatory budgeting, and are thankful to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris for including several essential investments identified by the Moral Budget Coalition, including Youth & Adult Mental Health, Targeted Direct Outreach to Connect Residents with Programs, the Homeless Flexibility Fund, and Broadband Access & Planning for At‐Home Learners in Underserved Communities, in the Administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget.

Investing ARPA dollars in these areas will directly impact our most vulnerable neighborhoods, families,  workers, and students to live a more equitable quality of life. We will continue to advocate for other vital community needs that are not yet addressed by these county investments.

The needs of our community are vast, and we hope that if there are amendments made to this proposed budget, they are made to allot additional funding to investments aligned with a moral budget. In particular, we have worked to highlight the need for commitments to fund public transit, affordable housing, education, and relief for our service industry workforce. Looking forward, we know the process and schedule for next years budget will be decided upon soon, and we have been working with members of the commission and the Mayor’s office to codify a participatory budgeting process for FY2023 that would involve the community and government in an intentional collaboration to create a budget that is truly reflective of our community’s values and needs.

The allocation of ARPA dollars is an opportunity to invest in people. We urge you to support critical ARPA investments that directly support working people and those most vulnerable in our community.

Thank you,

The Memphis/Shelby County Coalition for a Moral Budget

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies 

Our change partners Bridge Builders Change: Counselors, Not Cops, and the Shelby County Youth Council need your help in asking Shelby County Schools Board to end the district’s contract (MOU) with Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. The termination of this contract would ensure that our young people are spared unnecessary contact with the justice system. In addition, removing Sheriffs from our schools and replacing them with service providers such as school counselors, social workers, and other services that our students need would create a supportive, caring, and positive learning environment in the classrooms and hallways during school hours.

Dear Commissioner Schwinn,

We, the undersigned, as members of the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, believe that Tennessee must act with urgency to protect our children and their ability to attend school safely and in person. Our collective mission is to ensure that Tennessee’s students thrive and succeed in every corner of the state and one of the key priorities in our shared policy agenda is to “address the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and well-being.” We believe that we share that priority with the Tennessee Department of Education (the Department) as well.

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education for all Tennessee students, but it has hit our most vulnerable populations the hardest, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.1 There is clear evidence that the impact of the pandemic on children has been and will continue to be substantial, and the effects are likely to be detrimental to students’ long-term academic success unless they are offered both effective and targeted strategies.

We believe students are best served by in-person learning. However, this pandemic is surging to new heights, with the Tennessee Department of Health reporting that children represent nearly 40% of all positive cases in our state, and Tennessee has recently led the nation in pediatric COVID cases per 100,000.2  Far too many students and teachers across the state are missing school this fall, with more than 25 districts having closed due to the rising case numbers. Given the current state-mandated limits on virtual learning, when entire school districts close without additional options for learning, they are forced to halt instruction entirely for all students, including the most vulnerable.

Schools in Tennessee learned valuable lessons about teaching students remotely when we made the pivot to virtual learning last year as well as procedures for mitigating the spread of the virus. We now have many more tools and strategies at our disposal, which must be fully allowed and utilized. Parents across the state, including parents we represent, are fearful of sending their children to school under the current protocols, and are frustrated by the lack of learning when schools are closed.

We appreciate the steps you have taken to address some of the challenges districts, schools, students, and families are currently facing. However, to further mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on student health and learning, we urge you to do the following

  • Provide additional guidance on the Department’s temporary virtual school waiver application process, including:
    • Offering clarity on eligibility criteria and transparency on review and approval procedures
    • Providing timely responses so districts may plan in order to avoid a penalty or the loss of stockpiled days
    • Clarifying that districts can request a pivot to remote learning for individuals schools, including up to the total number of schools in their district in order to stop or slow the spread of the virus or in response to inadequate staffing
  • Offer guidance to district leaders and educators, including:
    • For districts that have already closed without a waiver, providing clarity on the 180-day instructional threshold given the impact on school closures and stockpiled days, and
    • District flexibility on the use or waiver of sick and personal leave requirements for COVID-19 related staff absences, including quarantine
  • Heed the expertise of healthcare professionals and provide the means for schools to use all of the tools at their disposal, which include guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the recent recommendations to Governor Lee by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, including:
    • Encouraging vaccines and making them readily available for Tennesseans ages 12 and up
    • Masking inside schools
    • Providing accessible testing for COVID-19
    • Contact tracing and quarantining
    • Proper ventilation and social distancing

As education organizations representing all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions, we share a deep commitment to student learning and wellbeing and are ready and willing to offer our partnership to you in devising solutions for the benefit of children and schools. We urge you to work hand in hand with districts and school leaders, offering clear guidance so that students can learn safely and in person. Our state’s families and educators are counting on strong, strategic leadership, and we believe that our state can and must do more to protect them and provide consistent instruction during this challenging time.

https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/education/tcap/spring-2021/TN-AcademicPerformance2020-2021.pdf

https://data.tn.gov/t/Public/views/CasesAmong518YearOlds/TableofSchool-AgedCOVIDCases?:showAppBanner=false&:display_count=n&:showVizHome=n&:origin=viz_share_link&:toolbar=no&:embed=yes

Respectfully, 

TN Alliance for Equity in Education

Dear SCS Board Members,

Firstly, we want to recognize that the 2020-21 school year was unprecedented and we appreciate all of the hard work that the SCS Board and administration have done to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic to support our students, teachers, and schools. As the SCS Board considers how to spend ESSER dollars, we hope to be partners with you in continuing our conversations and collaboration on how we can make targeted investments in the most meaningful ways for the future prosperity of Shelby County.

We are a group of community members from MICAH, Stand for Children, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, United Parents and Students, The Memphis Lift, 90ONE (Organizing Network for Equity), and Bridge BuildersChange. We all deeply care about education equity. Over the past year, our organizations have been researching what is happening in specific areas of focus and define opportunities for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with and received feedback from SCS administrators, Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and community stakeholders.

As recent test data has confirmed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in Shelby County and highlighted the urgent education investment needs for our families and communities. With continuing learning loss and hardships from this past year, we know that funding our students first is more important than ever this budget cycle. That’s why during the recent budget cycle we advocated for increased funds for education and youth with campaigns for the Youth Education Success (YES) Fund and the Moral Budget. We have yet to convince our city and county governments of the increased need for investing in K-12 education success, but we pledge to keep working towards this goal in addition to state BEP advocacy.

While we were not yet successful with additional local funding, we continue to believe that the investments we recommend can have a substantial impact. With a focus on critical milestones of childhood development, our organizations have developed this list of evidence-based recommendations with proven results that will develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students. Some of these will not be new to many of you, as we have tried to be consistent in identifying worthy solutions and to be as targeted as possible.

As SCS considers investments that the district wants to make using the opportunity from the increased ESSERdollars, we hope that you will review these priorities. We believe that all of the recommendations below align directly with your existing budget goals, SCS Destination 2025, and the Reimagining 901 plan. We look forward to working with you to ensure that SCS and its partners can deliver impactful funding with fidelity.

Improve Early Literacy Instruction and Support

Full-Time Literacy Coaches

Only one in five students in Memphis read on grade level, approximately three in four SCS third-graders are reading below grade level. Currently, there are only part-time literacy laureates in schools, which means these individuals cannot commit their full time to the rigorous needs of effective coaching. In our partnership with Dr.Nell Duke who supports us in developing early literacy policy and practice recommendations, she has emphasized the research that says literacy coaches could provide a tremendous benefit to teachers and students. Research shows the more time teachers spend directly with full-time coaches creates positive change in rapport, practice, and student achievement outcomes. Hiring dedicated full-time literacy coaches across all elementary schools would make a sustained impact by allowing more students to meet the 3rd Grade Commitment, improving Memphis literacy rates, and increasing community economic opportunities.

Multi-Tiered System of SupportsIn addition to full-time literacy coaches, we’ve also come across research from Dr. Carol Connor that is being utilized through tools from Learning Ovations by partners in other cities (such as Read Charlotte in NC). We found an opportunity that could lay out a continuum of support from school to community to home. With their short, targeted assessments, focus on indicating the needs for students in adult-managed and child-managed code and content, and clear reports, we have felt like this is a foundation of support worth exploring. We believe that the Learning Ovations A2i tool is something that SCS should explore for providing support to teachers and assistants in classrooms (quality research-based screener, grouping, individualized instruction recommendations) and that their community literacy support system could extend understanding and support for students from the school into the community. Stand for Children and Literacy Mid-South are currently leading a pilot program of Learning Ovationtools in our community with Reading Checkup and A2i After School in several of Literacy Mid-South’sOut-of-School Time network partners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) Curriculum and Staff

RTI² is state-mandated for public schools, but funds to implement the law are scarce. If teachers receive evidence-backed RTI² curriculum to utilize during their intervention time, data shows improved student proficiency and growth. In the highest needs schools, it is common for 80% or more of students to be in Tier III, meaning they are one, two, or more grades behind. Providing fiscal resources for RTI² would further address this overwhelming gap by enabling schools to scale up their RTI² capacity and programming to best meet the diverse needs of students in Shelby County schools. We recommend identifying research-based, data-driven intervention programming, such as ALLMemphis (Access Language & Literacy), to utilize in schools with students who have the greatest need. Local programs like ALLMemphis provide a high-quality curriculum while also investing in teacher capacity through intensive coaching, mentorship, and training on the science of reading and multi-sensory phonics instructional methods.

Increasing Mental Health Resources, Social Work, and Nurses

Hiring Nurses and Social Workers Across All SchoolsShelby County’s average ratio is 414 students to one social worker, compared to the recommended 250 to one(School Social Work of America). Shelby County’s average ratio is 1,207 students to one nurse compared to the recommended ratio of 750 to one (American Nurses Association). However, with the chronic health conditions existing in Memphis – such as diabetes, obesity, and high asthma rates – one nurse per school is recommended to have the most impact. Increasing accessibility to nurses addresses community health issues, reduces chronic absenteeism, and helps children be fully present to learn. Both locally and in the Tennessee state legislature, there is bipartisan support for additional nurses in schools as well as social workers and other support staff. The ongoing cost of these additional staff is what has prohibited reducing the ratios. As a result, there are concerted efforts to develop plans that would increase services for both the health and mental health of students in a cost-efficient way. Strategies include using telehealth services as well as more strategic coordination between school-based health clinics and federally qualified health centers(FQHC’s). We all know that our students need improved access to health and mental services, and we all need to work together to find these resources for students.

Trauma Responsive Reset Rooms

As SCS continues to work toward becoming a trauma-responsive district, we recognize the importance of the existing 30 SCS schools that have reset rooms currently, considering that the number of suspensions declined to15% of the student population from the 19% in the previous year. Considering the high rates of Adverse ChildhoodExperiences in Shelby County, having an alternative to in-school suspension is crucial to providing spaces for intentional de-escalation that doesn’t penalize students but rather, allows them to meaningfully reflect, develop coping skills, and practice social-emotional learning. Full implementation of reset rooms would not only increase outcomes in education but prioritize student well-being and mental health to prepare them with lifelong skills to be productive citizens

Promote High School, College, and Career Success

Freshman Success Teams (Freshman Success Network)

Stand for Children launched the Center for High School Success (CHSS) to support our work in developing supports for high schools around increasing the number of students who finish the 9th-grade on-track to graduate. This work leveraged and expanded the research and high school support work from the Network for College Success(NCS) at the University of Chicago. Their research showed that 9th graders on-track to graduate are 3-4 times more likely to graduate than off-track peers. We hope that SCS would consider requiring a summer 9th-grade bridge program to support the transition of students in this make-or-break year for their graduation success.

Currently, there are 20 high schools in Shelby County, including both traditional schools and charter schools, with dedicated freshman success coaches. Currently, all of the SCS iZone and Continuous Improvement Zone (former one schools) high schools are a part of the network. Our CHSS coaches support the Freshman Success Teams at each school in their efforts to increase the number of freshmen on track to graduate by focusing on continuous improvement, intentional on-track/off-track data tracking for 9th graders, and developing effective teams in schools. At the current high schools with CHSS coaches, data shows that on-track graduation rates consistently surpassed the district average with an overall increase of 16 percentage points for the ninth-grade on-track rate. We appreciate the SCS administration and Board approving the continuation of this work and the expansion to10th grade to address the impact of COVID on last year’s 9th graders.

College and Career Coaches

Counseling students on their postsecondary journey is complex, multi-faced, and requires much more of a time investment than one counselor per school. Many students look to their schools for the resources they need to make a postsecondary plan. These students deserve counselors who can advise them on their opportunities and ensure they are set up for success as they enter college or the workforce. Hiring additional college and career coaches to support post-secondary planning will enable more students to pursue college degrees or career training.

English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities 

As a partner of the Solidarity Project (90ONE – Organizing Network for Equity, The Memphis Lift, and Tennessee can), we support their recent advocacy to prioritize the needs of students with disabilities and English as a Second Language (ESL) students and their families as the district returns to in-person schooling through providing specific tiered classroom supports. For students with disabilities, their recommendations include smaller caseloads per education teacher and hiring additional licensed interventionists. For ESL students, their recommendations include increasing wraparound services and hiring additional bilingual support staff and ESL teachers.

My Child’s Learning Path

As a partner of the Memphis Lift, we support their recent advocacy and plan for SCS to implement an individualized student learning plan called My Child’s Learning Path. To increase transparency between parents, teachers, and schools, we believe this comprehensive tool would be invaluable to facilitate meaningful communication and understanding. With the ability to review a student’s attendance, reading, and math skills instead of just receiving grades or test results, having My Child’s Learning Path would be a significant step toward deepening parent engagement and accessibility.

Safe and Supportive Schools

As a partner with Bridge Builders Change, we support the youth-led advocacy towards removing law enforcement from schools and reallocating funds to increasing mental health resources and professionals (ie counselors, social workers, and behavioral specialists) available to students and decreasing the likelihood that young people will become entangled in the criminal justice system by ending the MOU between SCS and the Shelby County Sheriff’sOffice to provide officers in our schools. These commitments to safe and supportive schools prioritize the mental health of our young people while breaking the school-to-prison pipeline.

Mental health is a huge factor in determining outcomes for academic and occupational success. In the US, there are 14 million students in schools with police officers but no counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Shelby County, only 279 professional counselors are serving 100,000 students.

ESSER Dollars Process

We believe that SCS should work hard to ensure the community is notified, educated, and engaged around how the ESSER dollars will be spent. Particularly in this continued uncertain time and stress with a global pandemic, we have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of public transparency and communication. Planning and spending of ESSER Dollars and American Rescue Act Plan funds, along with any subsequent COVID relief dollars, provides another opportunity for engagement with the community. This funding transparency is vital because intentional community participation and feedback are required under the ESSER Dollars and American Rescue ActPlan.

Our coalition of advocates meets monthly to move forward issues that will support the future success of our students and educational equity. We appreciate the opportunity to engage with the SCS Board and administration. We are available to provide further information and receive questions and comments.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership, MICAH Education Task Force, Stand for Children – Tennessee, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, UnitedParents and Students, The Memphis LIFT, Bridge Builders Change: CNC Cohort, 90ONE