The Greater Memphis Chamber and members of the business community have come out in support of a half percent hike in the city sales tax rate to fund pre-kindergarten education for more than 4,500 4-year-olds in the city.
Kathy Buckman Gibson, chairman of the board of Buckman Laboratories International Inc., is among the business leaders advocating for pre-kindergarten initiatives in Memphis.
(Daily News/Andrew Breig)
The Memphis City Council in August approved an ordinance to put that tax increase on the ballot for city voters to raise money for what would be a city-administered pre-kindergarten program for children.
A benefit is that it would include children currently left out of the system, and the importance of funding that program was stressed Wednesday, Sept. 4, by Kathy Buckman Gibson, chairman of the board of Buckman Laboratories International Inc., a privately held specialty chemical company.
She has been a leading voice in the business community advocating for pre-kindergarten efforts in Memphis.
“We can no longer wait for this thing to happen,” she said. “It’s not just a quality-of-life issue. It’s an economic issue. Pre-K is a way to start achieving a better workforce. (Pre-K education) reduces the achievement gap between low- and middle-income students. For every dollar we invest, we achieve a return of over $5.”
The Memphis “Pre-K initiative,” www.memphisprek.com, is supported by a variety of community-based organizations, churches and private sector entities and leaders. Buckman Gibson was joined at a press conference Wednesday by Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO John Moore, chamber chairman Larry Cox and other business leaders.
During City Council discussion of the issue, it was estimated that the half percent sales tax hike would generate $47 million in revenue each year. A pre-K board would be created to administer a trust fund for the money, of which some $30 million would go toward providing pre-K services in Memphis. Any money leftover from the pre-kindergarten expansion would go toward rolling back the city property tax rate.
“We owe it to all our children to give them an equal chance and an equal opportunity,” Moore said. “When kids start out behind, they stay behind.”
The high-skilled jobs available in Memphis now and in the future, Moore added, require a “first-rate education,” something that he said starts with pre-K.
Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland called the move “absolute commitment to pre-K” during the council discussions.
The initiative is the result of a ballot referendum sponsored by City Council members Jim Strickland, Shea Flinn and Myron Lowery. A commission overseeing the new program would be comprised of business leaders and educators appointed by the city mayor and approved by the City Council.
According to www.memphisprek.com, voters will be given this ballot referendum language to consider:
“Shall there be levied an additional City of Memphis local option sales tax in the amount of one half percent, the proceeds of which levy shall be held in trust by the Pre-K commission until appropriated and then shall only be used to fund a Pre-Kindergarten program to be governed by the Pre-K commission with all excess funds paid to city government by June 30 of each year to be used by city government solely to reduce the ad valorem property tax rate?”