Hundreds To Be Turned Away From Pre-K Because Of Qualifications

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(Memphis) The unified schools district is screening potential prekindergarten students until next week, but they say many of the children won’t make it because there isn’t enough space.

Parents won’t find out if their child made the cut until the end of July when school is about to start.

There is a plan on the table to raise the sales tax a half a percent, with most of those funds required to go to pre-k.

This would add 4,000 spots, doubling the current number, after a year of cuts to pre-k classrooms.

Sharonda Gray hopes her daughter Maya makes the cut for pre-k.

“I want her to learn what the other kids can learn besides what she already knows so when she gets to kindergarten she’ll know everything,” said Gray.

The district will screen hundreds of kids over the next week to see if they qualify academically and financially to show they are in the most need.

“We want to serve mostly at risk children, so we are screening to see if these children qualify for our program,” said Dr. Carolyn Harvey.

Harvey is the director of the district’s pre-k program and says each day has been full, showing a demand for even more pre-k spots.

“It is vitally important to go to pre-k. Research shows for every dollar you invest in pre-k, you get $7 to $17 return on your investment,” said Dr. Harvey.

She says it reduces teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency and high school dropout rates.

But the problem is getting in.

This year, there are 3,380 spots available. Last year, there were around 4,200 spots.

Councilman Jim Strickland says the numbers show pre-k improves classroom success throughout a student’s career and he is sponsoring a plan to raise the sales tax by half a percent to add 4,000 more pre-k spots.

The higher tax rate of 9.75 percent would have to be approved by voters in November.

If approved, those qualify for pre-k academically but not financially will no longer be passed over for someone who qualifies for both.

“The sales tax that may be voted on in the fall would not have any of those restrictions. It would be for whoever wanted to come,” said Strickland.

Strickland says he is holding on to that tax increase proposal until after the city budget is settled next week, because if voters see a hike in their property tax as proposed, he believes they will be less likely to approve a sales tax increase too.

A similar increase last year failed by about 75 percent.