VOL. 133 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 15, 2018
County About $1M Short on Pre-K Funding
By Bill Dries
Advocates of expanding prekindergarten services countywide to 8,500 students over several years got a surprise last week when Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell outlined the administration’s funding for its share of the funding.
Luttrell proposed last week $1.5 million in new county funding for pre-kindergarten in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That’s in addition to the $3.5 million in ongoing county funding for existing pre-k services the county has provided over several fiscal years.
The new funding is the first step in expanding pre-k services by 1,500 seats, with private and philanthropic donors raising $23 million for early childhood services in support of pre-k and beyond it into kindergarten through the third grade.
The first step is finding $8 million to replace a federal grant currently in place that pays for 1,000 pre-k seats. The federal grant runs out July 1, 2019.
The city of Memphis has committed $3 million and Shelby County Schools $2.4 million for that specific goal. The county’s commitment of $1.5 million as proposed last week by Luttrell puts the total about $1 million short of the $8 million needed to replace the federal funds.
“We need the money to make sure that we don’t lose those seats,” said Kathy Buckman Gibson of the nonprofit group Seeding Success at a taping last week of the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines” that airs Friday, May 18.
“We’re looking for private dollars. We’ve had very encouraging private conversations with a number of private donors in our community and even nationally,” she said of funding for early childhood programs outside pre-k that are the private sector’s commitment to the effort. “But part of what they are looking for is that commitment from the city and the county. The city has made their commitment. We are now asking the county to do so.”
The discrepancy is partially the result of some different dollar figures being used by city and county government. The discrepancy is also evidence of a recurring fault line in such private-public efforts – who puts up their money when.
Luttrell has indicated he wants to see some kind of commitments from private donors.
At the outset of the agreement, Seeding Success said several times the donors want to see the public money in place to preserve 1,000 existing pre-k seats before committing a larger amount to the broader reach into early childhood.
Also at play is Luttrell’s exit from office in September – two months into the new fiscal year – along with at least eight of the 13 Shelby County commissioners. Luttrell and commissioners have, at the outset of the current budget season, talked about not putting any new long-term financial commitments on the new mayor and commission when they begin their terms of office Sept. 1.
But commissioners could reach deeper into an estimated $20 million budget surplus the county is expected to have when the fiscal year ends June 30 to provide the additional pre-k grant funding.
City Council member Kemp Conrad was among those involved in securing commitments to the current pre-k plan after previous efforts in two years to fund a pre-k expansion through referendums on city and county sales tax hikes failed with city voters and countywide voters.
The city took the lead in the new effort as “a catalyst to get the other government bodies together.”
“It took a lot of communication by the stakeholders … and letting people know that we have limited resources, but this is where we can probably get the most bang for the buck from the pre-k standpoint,” Conrad said.