Vote yes on pre-K sales tax Nov. 21

OPINION

Although not mandated by law, attending preschool has become almost a given for those families that can afford a private pre-K program. While a few brave parents may choose to tackle early education on their own, many more seek out a solid program that allows plenty of time for play, to be sure, but that also gives 3- and 4-year olds a head start on learning the academic skills that will prepare them to hit the ground running in kindergarten.

But what happens when you can’t afford private pre-K? In Memphis, if you are one of the 7,600+ Memphis children who qualifies financially for a public pre-K spot, you might be lucky enough to get one of the 3,080 available openings. But do the math and you quickly realize that that leaves more than 4,500 children without a viable preschool option. Add in the 600 more spots lost to sequestration and now we’re up to 5,100 children who will be eligible for publicly-funded pre-K in the 2014-15 school year but for whom there is no room today.

Our community has invested many dollars and man hours (both public and private) into K-12 education reform over the past several years, and I believe that educating every student to reach their highest potential is a value that the majority of us share. However, probably the single greatest contributing factor to the achievement gap between well-off and poor children is how well-prepared they are before they enter school.

The children of well-resourced families are cultivated for academic success, often from birth. And certainly we need more programs like Le Bonheur’s Nurse Family Partnership that helps low-income mothers provide the type of brain-stimulating environment that will enhance children’s development from birth to age 3. But even for children who are raised in that type of atmosphere, pre-K provides more formal academic exposure, not to mention valuable socialization experiences. Research shows that children who attend pre-K are more than twice as likely to be prepared for kindergarten, are less likely to require special education or grade-repeating, graduate high school at higher rates, and even cost society less as adults in terms of costs incurred through the criminal justice system and government assistance programs.

The sales tax referendum that will appear on the Nov. 21 ballot for City of Memphis voters supports this important priority for our community. As it is worded on the ballot, all funds would go toward a universal pre-K program for Memphis children, to be governed not by the school system or the city government, but by an independent pre-K commission, made up of respected leaders in our city. The tax itself would be an additional 0.05 percent, or a quarter on every $50 purchase — think of that as tossing a candy bar into your cart on a typical Target run.

There is wide support for this initiative among a diverse array of local groups like the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, PeopleFirst Partnership, Stand for Children, and Memphis Tomorrow. But it’s up to voters to make it a reality. I urge you to mark Nov. 21 on your calendar and make it a priority to go to the polls to support giving our community’s youngest citizens a fair shot at a great education and a happy, productive life.

Show your support before election day by visiting http://stand.org/tennessee/action/vote-yes-pre-k to sign an online petition pledging that you’ll vote yes on Nov. 21.

Join in the cause

Stand for Children is sponsoring a Cooper Young “Picnic for Pre-K,” asking for volunteers who care about passing the Pre-K referendum to meet at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 9 at Central BBQ. From there they will go door-to-door in Cooper-Young informing neighbors about the vote and seeing where they stand. Afterward, volunteers will enjoy Free Central BBQ at noon. RSVP to Jaclyn Suffel- jsuffel@stand.org .

By Ginger Spickler

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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