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VOL. 132 | NO. 77 | Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Coalition Urges City Funding For Memphis Schools

By Bill Dries

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A group of 13 organization and 17 citizens including Shelby County Schools board chairman Chris Caldwell and state Representatives Raumesh Akbari and G.A. Hardaway are calling on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to include at least $10 million in funding for schools in the budget he takes to the Memphis City Council next week.

The group “Fund Students First Coalition,” in an April 13 letter released Monday, is proposing a 50-50 mix of city funding for in-school and out-of-school efforts in an “education fund that will invest in efforts … that have a direct and measurable impact on students’ academic achievement and/or career development.”

The group recommends the city funding be used specifically for an expansion of career technical education in high schools, graduation promotion and drop out prevention strategies in high schools, more job experiences and training through an expansion of the city’s MPLOY youth employment program and “high quality out-of-school learning opportunities.”

The Memphis City Council cut but did not eliminate local funding to Memphis City Schools starting in July 2008. The school system took the city to court over the funding cut and won in a move that restored full funding for four more years until the 2012 merger of public education into a single Shelby County School system. The city’s obligation under state law ended with the merger in the summer of 2012.

Meanwhile, the school system and city settled years later on payment terms with annual payments still being paid by the city of Memphis.

But the settlement payments are not part of the state requirement of “maintenance of effort” by local funders. That was the requirement that was the central issue in the lawsuit – that a local government could not reduce its level of funding to a public school system unless it was for a drop in attendance, and then only with verification from the state.

Since the end of maintenance-of-effort funding, city leaders have avoided any funding that could bring back to life the maintenance-of-effort requirement.

The coalition suggests an education fund run by a nonprofit to administer city funds to avoid an ongoing legal funding obligation by the city.

“This provides a mechanism for supporting education without creating a maintenance of effort issue,” the letter reads.

It would also represent a shift in how the money could be used.

Under the maintenance of effort funding and under county government funding presently, only the Shelby County Schools board has line-item control of how the funding is used. The city formerly and the county presently fund a total amount and can make suggestions but the specifics of how the total funding amount is used is up to the school board.

A third party to accept and administer the city funding would presumably present the funding as a program with a contract that the school board would either approve or reject as a whole.

“The city of Memphis is now the only city in Shelby County that does not contribute additional funding to public education,” the coalition letter states, referring to the local funding the six suburban school districts each get from their respective municipal governments in addition to Shelby County government funding.

“Without a pending funding crisis, this is an opportunity for the city to reconsider its investment strategy in public education,” the letter adds.

SCS only gets county government funding. And the county funding is split among the seven public school districts based on average daily attendance.

The city funds efforts outside the school system that city leaders say benefit SCS students.

The organizations in the coalition effort are:

Black Lives Matter

Business Contracting Consortium

Campaign for School Equity

Memphis Education Fund

Memphis Grassroots Organizing Coalition

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association

Our Revolution 901

School Seed

Seeding Success

Shelby County Young Democrats

SisterReach

Stand for Children

Tennessee Young Democrats

The citizens in the coalition effort are:

Rep. Raumesh Akbari

Rev. Anthony Anderson

Kenya Bradshaw

Chris Caldwell

Tosha Downey

Rev. Earle Fisher

Mendell Grinter

Rep. GA Hardaway

Rev. Noel Hutchinson

Melvin Jones

Rev. Rosalyn Nichols

Cardell Orrin

Tami Sawyer

Athena Turner

Tim Ware

Roblin Webb

Michael Whaley

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