Shout out to Memphis Stand Outreach Coordinator Paul Gardner on being accepted in The Education Trust in Tennessee’s School Finance Institute! Here’s what he had to say about being selected to participate in this spring’s cohort class.

“I’m so happy to be a part of The Education Trust Finance Institute! I’m looking forward to expanding my working knowledge of how school funding works in Tennessee and share that info with parents, educators, and community members that supports Stand for Children so that we can effectively strategize and advocate for education equity at the local and state level. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to network with others across the state who are passionate about ensuring our students and schools have the funding they need and deserve!” -Paul Garner, Stand for Children-TN, Lead Outreach Coordinator.

About ED Trust’s Tennessee School Finance Institute:

The Education Trust in Tennessee is launching the Tennessee School Finance Institute to develop a cadre of well-informed advocates who want to learn about school finance and bring about meaningful funding reform for Tennessee students. Members are equipped with information, analysis, and practical skills to become leaders and strong advocates for school funding in Tennessee. Learn more about The Education Trust in Tennessee by visiting

As an education advocate and Stand supporter, you understand the need for students in Memphis and Shelby County to have equitable access to the tools they need to increase their chances of graduating high school prepared for college or a career. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the digital divide that exists in our community.

With schools being shuttered for the rest of the school year, learning and maintaining skills at home are the current focus for students and families – but that’s not possible without reliable internet access and electronic devices.

As many as 45% of households across Memphis and Shelby County lack internet access, and many students do not have devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) at home to support their learning. Every day a child goes without internet access is like missing a day of school. They cannot access resources they deserve for learning, and risk falling behind in their studies.

This Giving Tuesday, we are asking our supporters to join us in conquering the digital divide by donating to the YES Fund for COVID Relief. Your donation will help equip students with the devices and internet access they need, connecting them with teachers and with both local and worldwide learning opportunities.

Let’s bridge the digital divide to achieve equitable access and opportunity for our students and families together. Please consider making a donation today.

Apparently, Memphis has “momentum.” As the City of Memphis celebrates 200 years and moves into its third century, many are excited to reflect on its history and to praise the city’s accomplishments. While I recognize the progress of the past two centuries, I would be remiss to not point out that Memphis’ homicide rate was the third-highest among the country’s 50 largest cities last year, 39% of Memphis children live below the poverty line (the second-highest rate in the nation), and Memphis ranks poorest among major American metropolitan areas. I cannot celebrate “momentum” if youth in Memphis are barely surviving the dangerous rapids of poverty, systemic violence, and educational neglect while our city invests far less than 1% of its $700 million budget in youth and education.

Many believe that the solution to creating better opportunities for our youth can be found in attracting more businesses to deliver more jobs or getting the Grizzlies to donate a basketball court or cracking down on schools and parents to “do better”. While these things can make marginal improvements to the city, we must first build a sturdier foundation on which to improve. What good are jobs when the population is ill-prepared for the jobs of tomorrow that could deliver them from the atrocities of poverty? What use is a basketball court when parents are too afraid to send their child to use it? What more can teachers do when so many of our students leave our classrooms to endure the traumatic and violent experience of poverty on a daily basis?

As an educator, I know that we cannot continue to apply the same solutions hoping to solve the problems that our youth consistently face. To do so is quite literally the definition of insanity. Our solutions must be bold and innovative – qualities that the city has never in its 200 years attempted to embrace.

We need direct, strategic investments in areas that will positively impact the future success of our youth if we want to produce more successful schools, safer neighborhoods, and a thriving city.

All students, regardless of their academic, social, or behavior struggles, deserve direct investment in the neighborhoods, programs, and schools in which they are raised. To enable that, the city should create a dedicated fund that is specifically set aside to support Memphis youth with greater equity. Such a fund will ensure that the level of investment in youth will not waver with each election.

Currently, the only dedicated funding for youth from the City of Memphis is 0.3% of property taxes for Pre-K only. One penny of the current tax rate of $3.19 amounts to about $1.3 million. While this is worth a nod, imagine the impact if the city increased its investment tenfold. Only 3% of the revenue generated from property taxes could generate about $13 million each year to invest in youth!

We ought to take a cue from other cities where youth funds have been provided by budget allocations or appropriating a set-aside of property or sales taxes. In 1991, San Francisco voters decided to set aside 4% of property taxes for the nation’s first children’s fund. Voters overwhelmingly renewed their decision in 2000 and again in 2014, guaranteeing funding until 2039. In Baltimore, 80% of voters decided to set aside $12 million each year from property taxes to invest in youth.

In 2004, the Memphis Youth Guidance Commission was created to serve as an objective, nonpartisan youth research and advocacy body for city government, but it has been mostly dormant since the 2012 school merger. This apolitical body could be a starting point for conducting research to determine funding priorities and ensure accountability for a fund to benefit youth and K-12 education initiatives.

Those opposed to such initiatives, like many incumbent members of city government, may remind us that, since 2012, “Memphis is out of the education business.” Their reasons over the years have included maintenance of effort (a state mandate to continue funding at a certain level) and lack of accountability from the school district. For that reason, I must point out that a fund administered by a third party allows for an innovative way to pay for youth and education programs that does not trigger maintenance of effort, can maintain a high standard of accountability, and has the benefit of increasing equity in local funding. The district and other public education-related non-profits could apply for funding to support targeted, evidence-based programs focused on areas such as early literacy, high school success, and college and career preparation. None of these things are being adequately supported by state and local funding to Shelby County Schools. Furthermore, I would argue that education itself is largely underfunded based on the needs in our Memphis communities.

Just last year, city leaders decided to allocate roughly $260 million (nearly 40% of the entire municipal budget) for the Memphis Police Department. This amount increases yearly, yet Memphis is still considered unsafe. It is clear that a constant increase of funding to the police department will not, by itself, actually improve the city. If the City of Memphis can afford a quarter of a billion dollars for the MPD (including dollars spent spying on activists and citizens who challenge injustice, killing Black citizens in need of mental health services, and over-policing communities while paradoxically leaving them underprotected), then surely it can spare $13 million (a meager 5% of its current police budget) to invest its youngest residents and the future of Memphis.

As an educator and community advocate with Stand for Children, I know we cannot afford to sit idly by while our government negligently ignores its moral obligation to our children. The need is clear. Funding opportunities are plentiful. A body to monitor this fund already exists. All that is missing is a government and elected officials willing to prioritize youth.

If the current occupants of city hall are unwilling to do what is right by investing meaningfully in our youth, then we must do the hard work of replacing them. As Marian Wright Edelman once said, “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.” Stand up for Memphis youth with me by organizing and voting in the city elections on October 3.

Today (Monday, June 24), the Shelby County Commission plans to have their final reading of the tax ordinance to approve the 2019-2020 budget. From vital pre-K seats, to improving our school facilities and making key academic investments, the futures of 111,500+ Memphis students are on the line.

Funding for our students is not secured yet. Come raise your voice this Monday, June 24th 1:30PM to make sure the County Commision chooses to fund students first.

With the high demands of teaching, it’s easy to be caught up in the everyday challenges you encounter at school. Since I’ve gotten more involved with Stand for Children’s Momentum Memphis Task Force, I have deepened my understanding of how those challenges relate to the broader educational policy and budget issues.

For two years, I’ve worked in Shelby County Schools (SCS) as a third grader teacher at Dunbar Elementary. Working in the historic Orange Mound, the relationships I’ve built with my students and their families have shown me incredible resilience and strong communities ties. However, I’ve also witnessed the desperate need for better funding.

Currently, there are $500 million dollars in deferred maintenance in SCS. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that underfunded facilities can have on both learning and safety. Last winter, on a day when it was freezing, my class was interrupted by a loud bang. From the third floor, we felt our building shake. It was soon announced to send all students home. As our building lost heat, we then learned our boiler had exploded. We also found out that one of our custodial staff had been in the boiler room, but thankfully, he wasn’t harmed. When students returned the following day, I kept thinking about the scary fact that this was not the first time our boiler had exploded.

When we neglect to properly fund facilities, we are not only implying that we don’t care about our buildings, but also that we don’t care about the children or staff inside. I’ve had friends who are teachers across the district share similar struggles with me: leaky ceilings, broken AC and heating units, and ultimately, missed weeks of learning because our facilities are in disrepair.

If we expect our students to become 21st century leaders, we need 21st century facilities. At the past County Commission meeting, they approved a recommendation of about $38 million, but that is only two-thirds of the initial request. Considering the overwhelming amount of deferred maintenance, a $64 million request should be the bare minimum approved.

As a reading teacher, the potential investments for early literacy supports are particularly important to me. The County Commission has still not approved $2.5 million that safeguards 300 pre-K seats nor the additional $7.5 million of key academic investments requested by the school board. Last meeting, only $2.5 million was recommended for SCS and municipalities, which means SCS would get only about $1.9 million if that amount was approved.

3 out of 4 Memphis third graders are not reading on grade level, and third grade readiness is the strongest predictor of long-term learning success and on-time graduation. This statistic was evident in my class, as many of my students entered the year behind and needing intervention.

I think about one of my students who spent the majority of intervention time working on letter sounds and phoneme segmenting. By the end of the year, we were working on word reading fluency. While he made growth, he spent 3rd grade learning how to read, not reading to learn, and missed valuable learning time with his peers. If students are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade, half of the curriculum taught in 3rd grade and beyond will be incomprehensible.

4 out of 5 children in Memphis public schools are not reading on grade level, and less than a third of students are prepared to graduate from high school ready for college or career. These long term outcomes won’t change without foundational early investment.

Over the past year, Stand for Children, in coalition with 9-0-ONE Organizing Network for Equity and Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action & Hope (MICAH), has conducted research into the best ways to invest in our school communities. We’ve engaged with elected officials and administrators through personal meetings and public events. We keep hearing conversations on education, but have yet to see that dialogue turned into guaranteed investments.

Our students should be our highest priority and that should be reflected in our county budget. I hope that you will come stand with us to make sure education funding is prioritized.

Final Budget Meeting | 3rd Reading of the Tax Ordinance

Monday, June 24th at 1:30 PM

Shelby County Commission

Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building

160 N. Main Street

For over a year, Stand for Children, MICAH, and 9-0-One have been working both separately and together to define occasions for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with Shelby County Schools (SCS) administrators, SCS Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and other community stakeholders and have outlined a list of requests and recommendations that are in alignment with the goals, priorities, and plans of both the district and our county officials, as well as many of the hopes and dreams for young people that we have heard across the community. Where research exists, we have focused on proven, evidence-based approaches to develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students.

When we found that our organizations had set similar focus areas, we decided to join as a collaborative to share our research, experience, knowledge, skills, and solutions. We knew that the power of a unified community voice for our young people was a model that needed to be seen and heard.

As SCS enters its budget process and considers the investments that the district wants to make in 2019-2020, we recently presented SCS Board Members with our proposals for setting priorities and making investments for SCS students. While some of these requests may not require more funding, we must be bold in what we want for our young people and cannot shy away from asking for what is needed. Even if these requests mean that the SCS budget must increase, we look forward to pushing with SCS leaders and board members for the funding from Shelby County to ensure that SCS and its partners are able to deliver these impactful investments with fidelity.

Click here to download a PDF of our full presentation to the SCS School Board.

Supporting Schools to Help Students Succeed

The requests included in this section have some of the strongest backing based on the clear researched evidence and best practices that have been gathered on these topics.

Graduation Success for College and Career

Every student should be given the support necessary to graduate from high school and, upon graduation, students should be prepared for success in either college or their chosen career path.

In order to meet SCS’ Destination 2025 goal of a 90% graduation rate, we must ensure that every high school is focused on making sure 9th graders are on track by 2021.

  • Commit to all high schools having an intentional, evidence-based 9th grade-on-track program by 2021. Research indicates this should include at least bi-weekly 9th grade team meetings, focused student data monitoring, targeted academic interventions, one-on-one coaching support, freshman seminar/advisory class, participation in peer improvement network, and summer bridge program for 8th graders.
  • For 2019-2020, support expansion of the Freshman Success Network with 5 additional SCS traditional high schools (9 current schools) for a total of 14 traditional high schools in 2019-2020.

$65,000 per school with current allocation and summer bridge pilot (6 schools, 50 students each).

Estimated Cost: $1.3 million

High-quality career pathways should be available equitably to all students.

  • Programs should include rigorous curriculum and instruction towards industry certification, structured learning communities, work-based learning, an industry advisory board to ensure industry connection to all components, and school-based staff to ensure high-quality programs and assist students in post-graduation planning.
  • Funding to support expansion of NAF Academies with at least 6 more Academies.

Estimated Cost: $125,000 plus staffing costs (1 person for Academies oversight per school)

We can significantly impact literacy in grades K-2 by using research-based best practices to provide the supports needed to ensure that as few 2nd grade students as possible are retained under the new policy.

  • Create a more comprehensive early literacy pilot program with expansion of EL Foundations to 16 additional schools (from current 8); provide literacy coaches for each of the 24 elementary schools in the pilot; increase access to high-quality, culturally relevant books in pilot classrooms.

Est. $2.8 million (curriculum & materials, PD, coaches, and books)

  • Additional benefit could come from commitment to 18 students per class for K-2.

Facilities & Funding Our Students Deserve

All students need facilities and classrooms that meet 21st century standards.

  • By August 2019, SCS should develop a comprehensive footprint analysis for Shelby County Schools (including charter schools and ASD) that emphasizes access to academic opportunities and social-emotional learning. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create this analysis in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.
  • By December 2019, SCS should develop a 7- to 10-year comprehensive facilities investment plan that is equitable for students and neighborhoods, focused on 21st century learning needs, and aligns resources to serve students and families well. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create the facilities investment plan in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.

Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline

Students who are suspended from school lose valuable learning time, and can be set on a path that impacts the rest of their lives. 

SCS has recently committed to become a trauma-informed and responsive district that understands that we must begin to better address the social and emotional needs of all students and do our best to prevent and address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

  • Trauma responsive schools – SCS should create a 10-school pilot that includes additional staff and both proactive (SEL curriculum) and reactive (restorative practices) programs, training, and support.

Estimated Cost: $2 million

SCS has recognized the use of exclusionary practices (out-of-school suspensions and expulsions) as a serious challenge and should continue to make progress in reducing these.

  • Ensure that all elementary schools have designated staff for supportive, trauma-responsive in-school suspension or similar alternatives to out-of-school suspensions (e.g., reset rooms).
  • All schools should have a trauma-responsive trained Family Engagement Specialist who supports students and families with connections to interventions and supports in-school and outside of school. Adding 30 each year, this could be accomplished within 3 years. Clear metrics should be set around decreasing chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and expulsions.
    • 30 additional Family Engagement Specialists for 2019-2020 school year.

Estimated Cost: $1.8 million

There is a great need for additional counselors, social workers, and/or behavioral specialists in schools, but there may be a lack of certified candidates available for the scale needed by SCS.

  • Support staff that schools fund through their SBB, Title I, or other school-based funding source should come from a pool of candidates and fall under the oversight (with appropriate training and support) of the primary SCS office for that role.
    • This will help to maintain consistency in abilities and expectations for all schools with the same role in that school.
    • For example, all Family Engagement Specialists should be overseen by FACE and all Behavioral Specialists should be overseen by Student Support Services.

Community Investment for All Youth

In the schools, we see community investment through making our schools more equitable and ensuring that we are meeting the needs of all of our students and families.

Memphis has a growing population of non-English speaking community members. We should work as a community to welcome our neighbors and ensure they have equitable access to needed information.

  • Ensure an option for students to have their report cards and all official documents (prioritizing IEPs and 504s) translated and printed in Spanish with plans to expand to all students’ families’ preferred language.  Provide resources in the budget to ensure the implementation for the 2019-2020 school year.

SCS can help to stem the tide of Opportunity Youth by providing supports and programs that recognize and address the challenges faced by justice-involved youth.

  • SCS should commit to continue funding for Project STAND at Carver High School to replace expiring federal funding and to explore expanding the program to more schools with high concentrations of justice-involved youth.

Estimated Cost: $450,000

City of Memphis

  • Increase MPLOY summer job opportunities from current 1,750 to 5,000 by 2022.

City of Memphis & Shelby County

At Stand for Children, our mission is to ensure that all students – especially those whose boundless potential is overlooked and under-tapped because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability – receive a high-quality, relevant education. We work tirelessly with parents and community members to level the playing field so that children of all backgrounds have the tools and preparation to succeed. As the bills for Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account (SB 795/HB 939) make their way through senate and house committees, we feel compelled to point out that this voucher proposal does not serve our community’s shared goal of educational equity for all. We stand in full support of the detailed #NotOurChoice statement released from our partner, the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition

The theory is that Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) – school voucher programs – would allow families with low incomes or children attending low performing schools to take taxpayer dollars and access high-quality private education services. Even for those who agree, the current proposal completely misses the mark on this goal. Not only would these ESAs allow middle income students already attending top-performing public schools to take public funds and transfer them to private institutions with selective enrollment, the voucher would only cover a small fraction of the actual costs for high-quality private schools

In addition, students could be denied admission based on a laundry list of criteria, families of students with disabilities would have to give up their rights to protections, and schools could be held to a lower standard than our public schools because voucher students would not be required to take the TNReady assessment (allowing alternative tests). Clearly, there are substantial issues with pursuing this direction without further reinforcing exclusionary and discriminatory educational practices that we are working so hard to eliminate.  We believe that greater community investment in public schools is the better choice for ensuring that all children receive a high-quality education.   

We believe that it’s important that all of Tennessee’s one million public school students, not just a select few, see increased opportunities for success in their educations. That’s why we stand with our partners in the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition in opposing the ESA proposal.

There are students sitting right now in crumbling school buildings that have defective plumbing, no working air conditioning, and leaky roofs. Children can’t learn and teachers can’t teach at their best in uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions like this. It’s time to demand better for Shelby County students!

Sign the petition now if you believe our students deserve safe, updated, and clean schools.

Shelby County currently has nearly $500 million in deferred maintenance for school buildings. Neglecting updates to these facilities is causing students to get sick, and even forcing some schools to temporarily close, leading to a drastic drop in student attendance.

Take action now: Tell Shelby County officials to develop a plan to update school facilities!

When it comes to the relationship between school facilities and academic achievement, study after study seems to confirm what we already know: that the quality and condition of the physical space has an effect on students’ motivation and performance. Simply put, it is difficult to concentrate on learning while immersed in an environment that is too hot or too cold, has poor air quality that triggers asthma and other respiratory issues, is too cramped or noisy, is prone to rodent or insect infestations, or that is set up with outdated, ill-functioning equipment. If we are serious about ensuring that every child has a chance to succeed in school, then adequate funding for physical facilities should be an important part of the community conversation.

Shelby County Schools currently has building stock of which almost 80 percent is at least 40 years old, with many facilities still furnished with their original equipment. In 2014, a commissioned report found $476 million in deferred maintenance across the district, and that total has since climbed to more than $500 million. Historically, there have been deep disparities in the quality of the facilities that students in Shelby County attend. Many of those disparities still exist today, which makes facilities maintenance another factor in attaining educational equity – particularly when school closures or consolidations are often methods of addressing deferred maintenance.

Every student deserves a school environment that is safe, comfortable, and conducive to learning – one that is fully equipped to facilitate the teaching modes and technology needs of the twenty-first century. This year, SCS will spend a record-setting $90.2 million on construction and maintenance projects, but that is still a drop in the bucket. To truly remedy historic inequities and have a lasting positive effect on student attendance and achievement, the district needs a comprehensive and equitable facilities maintenance plan, along with the funds to implement it.

Let’s make it happen. Sign our petition today and add your support for modern, high-quality school facilities that enhance learning for all of our community’s children.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter suggests that, “the public finances are one of the best starting points for an investigation of society, especially … of its political life.” What, then, do we learn about our own community when we examine our local municipal budget? What do the allocations in the 2018 budget for the City of Memphis tell us about our collective priorities, especially as they pertain to our local youth?

In his letter accompanying the proposed FY 2018 budget, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland remarked that it reflects an increased investment in youth, as Memphis would be “spending $663,000 more on our youth jobs programs — amplifying a program that already provides 1,400 meaningful opportunities for Memphis young people every year.”

When we look at the 2018 budget as published, we see the $663,000 as the allocation for youth services broadly. The actual increase in funding to the MPLOY Youth program was only $150,000, which only funds an additional 250 positions for summer youth employment. To those who would argue that Memphis lacks the resources to invest in youth, I would stress a consideration of the public finances. In 2018, there was no increase in the tax collection rate. Yet, there was an additional $5.8 million allocation to the Memphis Police Division and $2 million more to street paving for a total of $18.5 million. These financial decisions are a strong indication of the relative valuation of Memphis youth.

While any additional positions for the MPLOY program are a step in the right direction, with more than 8,000 applicants annually, 1,500 positions are not enough to support the professional and academic development of Memphis’ youth population. Take a look at how other cities are working to bridge the gap, and how we can follow suit.

The concept of student-based budgeting (SBB), also called weighted student funding or fair student funding, has been around for several years now but is recently becoming more popular as more school districts across the country have begun to adopt the practice with a range of successful results.

Traditionally, school districts have allocated staffing and funding to schools simply based on the number of students enrolled at each school. On the surface, this seems like an equitable way to distribute limited resources. However, this method has a number of shortcomings:

• It assumes that all students benefit from the same resources in the same way.
• Funding designed to provide additional support for certain student populations does not necessarily get distributed to the schools that those students attend or is not distributed in effective amounts.
• School leaders are minimally involved in the process, which then makes it more difficult to hold them accountable for academic results.

Student-based budget models not only consider the number of students at each school, they also factor specific student needs into the planning process. They provide flexibility for resources to be allocated for specific types of students, such as gifted students, students from low-income households, English language learners, or students with special education needs. SBB can also help address low academic performance and serve as a powerful tool in an overall academic intervention strategy. Because principals and teachers have greater autonomy to determine how resources are used, they can be more proactive in making sure that budget allocations fit the needs of the actual students at their specific schools, thereby improving overall academic outcomes.

On a local level, Shelby County Schools is seeking funding equity by joining the list of districts implementing student-based budgeting model. Learn more about the impact that this will have on our students and how you can get involved.