A Present For The Kids

December 18th, 2014

They say it’s about the kids, but while the adults in Tennessee have been arguing about who’s going to pay for what and who gets the credit and who doesn’t, nobody’s been watching the kids.

Turns out the rest of the country has.

As published in The Daily News, December 19, 2014, and in The Memphis News, December 20-26, 2014

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This Christmas, our country has given our kids a chance.

As a county, we had a chance to do it for ourselves but local government wouldn’t fund it and local citizens wouldn’t pay for it. As a state, our governor had to be talked into asking for it and our legislature would rather not talk about asking for help at all.

But, because our country can see the need in Tennessee, see the bigger picture than a narrow political view, see the value in investing in our children – because of bigger thinking – we are one of 18 states to receive a federal Preschool Development Expansion grant for Pre-Kindergarten. Shelby County will split $70 million with Nashville and spend it over the next four years on our four-year-olds and Tennessee’s tomorrows.

Research from our own Urban Child Institute in Memphis and national study after national study show what that can mean in the years to come. 

For example, at age 27 – adults who had Pre-K will be four times more likely to be earning at least $2,000 a month, two times less likely to have received government assistance. Those who didn’t have Pre-K are 1.5 times more likely to be arrested as juveniles; 2.08 times more likely to be arrested for misdemeanors; and 2.14 times more likely to be arrested for felonies.

For example, at age 40 – 60% of those who had Pre-K will earn more than $20,000 a year vs. 40% of those who didn’t have Pre-K; 76% will be employed vs. 62%; 76% will have a savings account vs. 50%. For those who didn’t have Pre-K, the chances of being involved in violent crime and in drug crime – for being arrested more than five times – are all 50% greater than those who did have Pre-K.

Simply and undeniably, children who attend Pre-K have greater success in later grades, in school in general, and in life.

Addressing the racial and class gaps in educational achievement and protecting our societal investment in education form the foundational rationale for supporting public school Pre-K. Ability gaps open at early ages and play an important role in determining economic and educational success.

When a child gets it, it gets better for every one of us.

And there’s something many of us still don’t get – we are part of a larger whole and we cannot make it on our own. We need each other and each other’s tax dollars. This state – especially this state and our neighbors in the region – cannot survive without federal support. Tennessee gets more than a buck back for every federal tax dollar we send and – since we’re busy passing state legislation that limits our local funding – we may need even more.

So this season, be sure and thank our friends in populous New England, out in California, up in Illinois and Ohio, across the whole of the United States. 

They’ve just invested a whole lot of money in our kids.

I’m a Memphian, and this is my thank you note.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

 If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.

The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.



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