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