Memphis city council discusses whether tourists should help pay for Pre-K education

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Right now, over 7,000 kids in Shelby County have access to pre-kindergarten education.

Studies show it’s helped testing and reading scores, along with school preparedness.

However, a federal grant that helps fund Pre-K is soon going to disappear and a community group thinks tourists should help foot the bill.

The nonprofit group Seeding Success is suggesting the city raises its hotel/motel tax from 3.5 percent to 5 percent.

“One of the good things about it is it’s not taxing Memphians; it’s taxing folks who are coming to this city as tourists," said Mark Sturgis, executive director at Seeding Success. "It’s only going to add a couple dollars to your hotel bill.”

He says that increase could generate $5 million a year towards Pre-K education.

More students than ever before are currently enrolled in Pre-K in Shelby County. It’s increased the district average of students being kindergarten-ready by 10 percent in the past year.

An $8 million federal grant for Pre K is expiring in 2019, which would affect about 1,000 students. Seeding Success says the hotel/motel tax increase would save their spots and create 1,000 more.

“Where you spend your money, it sends a message of what’s important to you," said Councilman Martavius Jones.

Councilman Jones said he supports boosting Pre K, but doesn’t like the idea of the money coming from a city hotel/motel tax.

He suggested it come from state and federal funds.

“We’re using some of that revenue now to pay for a building down the street called the FedEx forum; You’d think we could do something at an equal rate or value for the 4-year-olds who live here," said Sturgis.

Tuesday was just the beginning of the conversation that many want to have.

Seeding Success’s goal is for 90 percent of Shelby County students to be Kindergarten ready by 2025. It’s currently at 60 percent.