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.
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