The Great Debate Over A Sales Tax Hike For Pre-K In Memphis

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(Memphis) When you mention the 'T'-word or taxes in Memphis, it can be a hard sale for small business owners like De'Andre Green.

For more than 15 years, he's operated his own hair salon on Union Avenue near Front Street in downtown Memphis.

"I think they're going to be taxing people to death. Every time we look around, they're taxing," Green said.

He's concerned raising the sales tax rate will drive customers outside the city.

But Memphis City Councilman Jim Strickland said that shouldn't be the case.

"Crittenden County has a higher tax than we do. Germantown, Collierville, Barlett have a higher tax than Memphis. If we raise our tax rate, we'll just match where they are," Strickland said.

Some city leaders such as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton are throwing their support behind raising the sales tax a half cent to offer pre-kindergarten to 5,000 4-year-olds.

So, we wanted to know if this means Memphis is getting back into the education business?

"This is the City of Memphis getting back into the public safety business, the health business. It's money we're spending too much of it because we didn't take care of the childhood needs of the children," Wharton said.

The city surrendered its education charter to Shelby County Schools in 2011 -- essentially meaning Memphis is no long obligated to spend about $80 million a year to support schools.

Former Shelby County School Board Member Dr. Kenneth Whalum said Memphis had its chance to educate children.

"Alex, what we have done is walked away from our K-through-12. The City of Memphis walked away. They surrendered the education of K-12 and now they're saying we're going to turn everything around by educating those who are not even in K-through-12," Dr. Whalum said.

WREG-TV commentator Otis Sanford calls it a legitimate argument.

"How can you get out of the education business and then turn around and ask voters to tax themselves back into it just for pre-k? A lot of people aren't buying that," Sanford said.

The Society for Research in Child Development released a large pre-k study last week.

It shows tax-supported programs can lead to students who read better, graduate high school, go to college and get a good job.

But according to the website,, the state comptroller's office in 2010 questioned if children who attend pre-k perform better during their first two years of school.

"It is a proven fact if a child who receives a good foundation in pre-k does not receive support in the higher grades, about third or fourth grade, they'll lose the intellectual benefits of a good pre-k education," Dr. Whalum said.

Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins said pre-k can have lasting benefits.

"I think it is providing a foundation or opportunity for our young people to get ready and that's a difference," Collins said.

It's a difference of opinions as voters decide if a tax hike is worth the investment.

"It's everybody's business and this is about the education, the full development of our children. It's one of the best investments we can make," Wharton said.

A lot of opinions, but voters will have the ultimate say November 21st at the polls.

1 Comment

  • Linda Blackmore

    I have asked and asked why NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT THE 11million received from the lottery. Also, there is no real proof preK even helps. Haven’t we had Headstart for years? And is the school system doing better? NONONO!! We have how many schools taken over by the STATE???? How much money do the daycares that were raided this morning get for prek????? And they’re being investigated by the federal government–probably for fraud and embezzlement of funds. This money is not needed. PreK is only marginally effective, and then only for children with learning problems. They will be funded, anyway into the regular school system. PreK is nothing but free babysitting for the welfare crowd who don’t work and don’t take care of their kids and don’t intend to.

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