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Heavily taxed Memphis voters to consider more taxes for pre-k schools

By   /   November 13, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

MEMPHIS — Memphis officials want residents to pay higher taxes to support pre-kindergarten schools, despite a Tennessee comptroller’s report that pre-k programs have no lasting impact.

Not to mention those high taxes city residents already pay.

City voters will decide Nov. 21 whether to pay for a proposed tax increase.

Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, who co-sponsored the ballot referendum, told Tennessee Watchdog Tuesday that an earlier comptroller’s report dismissing the benefits of pre-k is flawed.   

“There are other reports that show the academic gains last longer. The comptroller said, though, that there are behavioral gains. One disruptive child can hold back learning in an entire classroom,” Flinn said.

HIGHER TAXES: Memphis voters will decide Nov. 21 if they want to pay even higher taxes for pre-k programs.

HIGHER TAXES: Memphis voters will decide Nov. 21 if they want to pay even higher taxes for pre-k programs.

Without addressing whether a parent, and not the state, is responsible for a child’s behavioral issues, Flinn said pre-k programs reduce future crime.

“Pay me now or pay me later. We can intervene now at a young age,  or we can pay to incarcerate someone later on,” he said.

Assuming voters support a tax increase, Mayor A.C. Wharton has already appointed eight members of a pre-K commission to develop standards for the program.

None of those eight members was available for comment Tuesday, but Flinn told Tennessee Watchdog the idea of expanding the new pre-k program isn’t necessarily out of the question.

“We would like to get into the 3-year-old business as well. The earlier you can intervene the more of an impact that you can have,” Flinn said.

With support from the Memphis City Council and the Greater Memphis Chamber, the public relations firm Sutton Reid is overseeing an advertising campaign designed to convince voters to support a sales tax increase.

As previously reported, Memphis voters will decide whether to pay a half a percentage point more in sales taxes on non-food purchases, from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent, Sutton Reid representative Steven Reid said in September.  

The revenue is expected to bring in additional $47 million for pre-k, Flinn said.

The comptroller’s report said the benefits of pre-K are mostly limited to economically disadvantaged students during kindergarten and first grade. Those same students, though, didn’t perform measurably better in the second grade or beyond, according to the report.

The federal government made $8.2 million in cuts to the program, thus prompting the ballot initiative to fill the gap — and then some.

Flinn said almost $40 million more is needed as the city will lose more federal money soon, including federal Race to the Top funding in 2015.

The current program serves about 3,000 students in the county.

Memphis’ property taxes are among the highest in the state, and the city’s population continues to dwindle because of the ever-increasing cost of living, city council member Kemp Conrad told Tennessee Watchdog in 2011.

“We can’t continue to balance the budget on the backs of fewer people. That’s a recipe for becoming Detroit,” Conrad said.

Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected]

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Chris formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.