MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Political and civic leaders in Memphis have been talking for years about ways to improve this city's economic health. One way to do it is by expanding the pool of private businesses that receive the hundreds of millions of dollars in local government contracts.
Until now, minority and women-owned companies have gotten a small fraction of those contracts while firms owned by white men have cashed in big time.
Elected officials in city and county government have tried to address the disparity by seeking out more qualified minority companies.
Now, it's the school system's turn.
Earlier this week, Shelby County Schools released its own disparity study. It shows that women and minority firms have received just 15 percent of the $671 million that the district spent with local companies over the last six years. That amount includes local contracts awarded by the former Memphis City Schools before it was dissolved in 2013.
Companies owned by African Americans got less than six percent of school contracting dollars while businesses owned by white men got 85 percent.
For a city and a school system that is so overwhelmingly African-American, these numbers are disgraceful. But let me be clear, this is an economic issue much more than it is a racial issue. Diversity in government contracting is crucial for economic growth, and the school district — like the city and county — must do better.