My support of a half-cent sales tax increase will give pre-kindergarteners as young as 4 years old an opportunity to acquire the fundamental skills that they need to transition to upper grade levels, college and eventually out into the workforce.
I am a proponent of education and believe all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, deserve the best education we can provide for them, from pre-school to high school and beyond. Therefore, I'm urging the citizens of Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County to join me in voting for the countywide sales tax referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Memphis is a city on the move and, I dare say, one of the finest in the United States. We are uniquely positioned as a transportation hub and known worldwide for civil rights, the blues, barbeque and biomedical engineering. Our city is also a destination spot for tourists, but we, too, can become a magnet for educational opportunities.
Although the amenities of a city set it apart from other cities, it is an educated workforce that keeps the economic growth engine running smoothly. That's why it is vitally important for us to move expeditiously in the right direction to prepare students with the essential learning tools to compete in the 21st century economy.
Memphis is no longer mandated by the state of Tennessee to fund public schools, but we still have a moral obligation to ensure that each student is given a quality education and access to equal opportunities to succeed. It is my goal to build a world-class public school system, but in order for this to happen, an increase in education funding is needed.
According to the education experts, children are better equipped to succeed in life when they start school as early as prekindergarten. Given that student achievement rates in Memphis and Shelby County schools are less than stellar, it is up to each one of us to keep our children from lagging behind academically.
I'm supporting the sales tax increase because I believe the investment will pay off for our children. An estimated $30 million of the $60 million generated from the half-cent sales tax increase will be used to fund universal pre-K for all children in Shelby County, which will increase from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent.
There is no greater investment than expanding pre-K for all 4-year-olds. The future of these children depends on how well we prepare them as leaders of tomorrow. When they start out early, they are less likely to fall behind socially and academically and will be in a much better position to succeed in life.
If we are going to improve the academic achievement rate, good, effective teachers are needed in the classroom to make this happen. A vote for the sales tax will ensure that the work of the Teacher Effectiveness Measure in the unified school district is continued and fully funded.
It may come as a surprise to you, but only 6 percent of high school graduates in Shelby County are considered college ready. That's a disappointing percentage considering that hundreds graduate each year yet are not prepared to succeed in college or their chosen field. That's why we must increase the number of college ready students to strengthen the local economy.
Education is a top priority in my administration. It is also a priority as well as the mission of the Transition Planning Commission to increase students' academic performance when the schools merger takes effect in 2013.
This is a move in the right direction. So I hope you will join me and vote for the half-cent sales tax referendum. This is an opportunity for you to take part in the education of children in Memphis and Shelby County.