City council approves ordinance to select fiscal agent for universal pre-K

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The push for universal pre-K in Shelby County is gaining traction.

Leaders across the county have been pushing for it to happen, and on Tuesday, Memphis City Council approved the reading of an ordinance to find program managers to implement the plan.

"This is a fulfillment of something we've been thinking about for a long time," said Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the City of Memphis.

Last year Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced the city would be partnering with the county and school system. Using money from expiring tax incentives and equivalent revenues from one cent of the current property tax rate, the city will put the money to a pre-K fund. The city said this will generate $6 million plus millions of dollars from the county and school system totaling $16 million.

"But the question had become, 'Well, we have this pre-K money. Who do we give it to?'" McGowen said. "And instead of the city giving it out to individual pre-K providers, we're going to give it to a fiscal agent who can decide who the number one providers are — who are the people that are going to make sure there's a quality program."

The changes should be felt almost immediately.

"This coming school year, in the fall of 2019, if we did not put this funding in place, there would be 1,000 less children who would have pre-K," McGowen said.

The plan is to add more seats as more providers are found.

"The summer of 2020, you'll add another 500 seats, and the summer of 2021, you'll add another 500 seats," McGowen said. "And we think that compliment of 9,000 seats is exactly what we need in this community."

The goal is for every child who has a need to be able to go.

The ordinance regarding that fiscal agent and developing a board still needs to go through a few readings. The county commission is also going through a similar process.

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