If every child in Shelby County is given a head start in life, there is a preponderance of evidence that that child would go on to become a productive member of society – which means skilled workers would be added to the workforce, crime and poverty would decrease, and the need for public assistance would be reduced.
We're at a crossroad where a decision has to be made to bring the aforementioned scenario into reality. But that decision would have to be made by the voters of Memphis via a referendum that will be on the ballot this fall to increase the sales tax by a half-cent. If approved, $47 million could be generated, with about $30 million earmarked for pre-K and $17 million to reduce property tax rates.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is not alone in its support of a half-cent sales tax increase for early childhood education. It is a civil rights issue and one of the NAACP's "5 Game Changers for the 21st Century." There are others in support of this initiative as well, including city officials and a number of education advocates who see the significance and critical need of supporting the education of children at the pre-K level.
While some people may consider a sales tax increase to be egregious and regressive, impacting those who can least afford it, it is justified in this case to prevent our children from failing in life before they're given an opportunity to succeed. As adults and concerned citizens of Memphis and Shelby County, it is our responsibility to provide our children with the essential tools that are needed to increase their cognitive skills and ensure their academic success from pre-K to graduation and beyond.
The suburban voters in Lakeland, Germantown, Collierville, Arlington and Bartlett have already passed a sales tax referendum to fund, in part, their own respective municipal school districts. The voters in Memphis need a revenue stream to fund the early education of our own children, particularly since the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools on July 1.
Thousands of children are left out of pre-K each year because of federal and local budget cuts, and it is imperative that we, as a community, find a way to make sure those most vulnerable have a starting chance to become productive members of society. Our children need a firm, educational foundation to advance in life and to prevent them from languishing in poverty and turning to crime.
Since nearly 30 percent of our children are reportedly poverty-stricken, we have a chance to do something about it. We must vote this fall to increase the sales tax by a half-cent.
(The Rev. Keith Norman is president of the Memphis Branch NAACP and pastor of First Baptist Church – Broad.)