Bill would use Sunday wine sales to fund pre-K in Shelby schools

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers will consider allowing Sunday sales of wine this session, and a Shelby County lawmaker wants to use the proceeds to fund more pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children in county schools.

State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, has introduced SB 1968 in the General Assembly. The bill is expected to be heard in committee March 6. Its House sponsor is Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis.

Harris says more than 2,200 children in Shelby County are enrolled in the state's pre-K program and more classrooms are needed, but funding the expansion has been an issue.

An $8 million federal grant that has helped expand pre-K in Shelby County by 33 classrooms is expiring in 2019 and community leaders are looking for ways to replace the temporary grant.

"We need more pre-k classrooms in Shelby County and in other communities across the state," Harris said in a statement. "Many of us have been working on this effort, but a solution has always seemed just out of reach. The new revenue that will be generated from Sunday sales is an opportunity to expand investment in early childhood education.”

Sunday sales of wine are currently prohibited in Tennessee, but a separate package of bills this session would allow retail stores to sell wine during the same hours they sell beer. Information on the state's website about Harris' bill does not include an estimate on how much revenue would potentially be generated for Shelby County by the measure, but the state estimates that Sunday wine sales could increase the local share of state tax revenue by more than $1 million.

Harris is running for Shelby County mayor this year.