MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Violent crime among juveniles is increasing at an alarming rate in Memphis and Shelby County, and a new report says fighting crime may come down to raising pay.
Shelby County's top law enforcement officials read to pre-K students Tuesday at the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy. The playful interaction also had a much more serious side.
Steering youngsters away from crime is a challenge Memphis Police director Michael Rallings said can be met with quality pre-K education.
"Kids that get on an early trajectory for success, they end up being successful," Rallings said.
But that success depends on attracting a workforce of well-paid professionals.
A report released by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids points to a wide pay disparity among Tennessee's early childhood teachers.
"Pre-K teachers make on average $32,630 in the state, where kindergarten teachers make $50,160," Shleby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said. "You get what you pay for."
The report, which was released Tuesday, shows a need for streamlining certification and focusing on early math and literacy.
Elected officials said there's been debate in Tennessee's general assembly about the importance of early childhood education, and the numbers show a need for change.
"When you even look at the history of us still having voluntary pre-K and early childhood education as opposed to mandatory, and if you look at other areas of the South like Mississippi, Tennessee is ahead of the curve, but Georgia is kicking our butt," Tennessee State Sen. Raumesh Akbari said.
Director Rallings has been vocal about Tennessee's legislators not doing enough to address easy access to guns. He called gun violence a major problem in Memphis and is concerned "that the bodies keep stacking up."