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Education: Cradle To Career

Education: Cradle To Career

Education is the key to future economic success.  Learning begins at birth and continues into career where today most good jobs require a post-secondary certification or degree.  Parenting, child care, preschool, K-12, college, and technical and trade schools are all important components of the education continuum, which is why our investments and policy advocacy span cradle-to-career.

Effective teaching is the number one in-school factor affecting academic success, and we have a long way to go toward providing equitable access to great teachers. At the same time, we know that equally important is for children to have the safe, nurturing home lives that empower them for success in school. Too many don’t.  In fact many are suffering the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as exposure to violence in their neighborhoods and homes, homelessness, and poor health and nutrition. That’s why “wrap around” support services are so crucial.  School nurses and mental health counselors, evidence-based home visiting programs that help develop parenting skills, summer care, mentoring, quality preK and child care — these are among the crucial supports needed to help disadvantaged children and families begin to thrive.

Closing the prosperity gap depends on closing the opportunity gap, and that begins with ensuring disadvantaged children have great schools, great teachers and the wrap-around care they need and deserve.

Currently, much of our focus is on advocating for state policy and investment to support education providers and families here at home. Our state policy priorities for 2020 include:

  • Cease the stockpiling of federal TANF funds ($732 million) and instead invest them in effective programs that advance economic mobility for families in poverty.
  • Stop returning federal child care funds ($200 million+ over recent years) and invest them in high quality, affordable, accessible child care for children and working families.
  • Expand the Tennessee Voluntary PreK Program funding so that all disadvantaged 4-year olds (instead of the 40% currently covered by the program today) may attend if their families so choose.
  • Invest significantly in evidence-based home visiting programs.
  • Expand funding to put a nurse and mental health counselor in every school
  • Invest in excellent curriculum and professional development for our PreK-3rd grade teachers with a special emphasis on early literacy.

We’re also currently working at the high school / career and technical education end of the spectrum through direct engagement with Shelby County School’s Career and Technical Education (CCTE) division. Among other things, we are helping establish career academies for Health Sciences, Information Technology and STEM at Hamilton and Kingsbury High Schools.  Our early role is to create work-based learning opportunities — from worksite tours to internships — for 9th-12th graders participating in the programs. This is the first year of the effort and we’re learning together with the SCS team how to make this successful and take it to scale.

Below is a sampling of some other education related work we’ve supported in the past and in some cases continue to support.

First 8 Memphis / Memphis and Shelby County Early Childhood Plan.  In 2015, Memphis Tomorrow and our members funded education collective impact partner, PeopleFirst Partnership, in a year-long collaboration of multiple stakeholders to develop a detailed plan for improving birth to third grade outcomes for Shelby County’s young children.  That plan called for, among other things, expanding pre-k, improving the quality and affordability of childcare, and expanding evidence-based home visiting programs which are known to improve early parenting skills and kindergarten readiness, and which, like all high quality early education programs, have a strong return on investment.

Since that time, PeopleFirst Partnership (now known as Seeding Success) has evolved the Early Childhood Plan into a focused implementation effort called First 8 Memphis.  That effort is currently raising a mix of local public-private funding with early commitments from some Memphis Tomorrow companies towards a substantial new recurring investment in early education programs for disadvantaged children.

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE). Because local early education is impacted by state policy, in 2015 Memphis Tomorrow supported the founding of TQEE as a statewide, bi-partisan policy and advocacy coalition comprised of business, law enforcement, faith communities, parents, educators and policymakers from across Tennessee. Since the initial policy success in defending Tennessee’s Pre-K program from legislators who wanted to reduce funding, a growing number of Tennessee organizations and people from across the state have joined in to support TQEE in advancing state policy and investments that help improve early education birth to third grade.

Race-to-the-Top Early Learning Challenge Grant.  In 2014 Memphis Tomorrow with PeopleFirst Partnership led the effort which successfully resulted in a federal $70 million grant award to the state of Tennessee to improve early education in Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). The effort involved coordinating planning between Shelby County Schools and MNPS leadership, as well as Bartlett Schools, Millington Schools and the Achievement School districts which were also beneficiaries, providing funds for and hiring a consulting firm to write the complex grant application, securing commitments for some local match funds from Shelby County government, and urging Governor Haslam and the state legislature to give the necessary sign-off to support and then accept the federal $70 million award from the Obama administration.  The funding added 50 new pre-K classrooms at SCS and established “wrap-around” support services for those 50 as well as all other existing pre-K classrooms in SCS, as well as adding pre-K classrooms and wrap-around services for Bartlett School District, Millington School District and the Achievement School District.

Ready Set Grow.  From 2003-2013 Memphis Tomorrow and some of its member companies supported University of Memphis in the implementation of an initiative to improve the quality of childcare called Ready Set Grow. The U of M program team provided technical assistance to 50+ centers toward achieving NAEYC accreditation, organized peer coaching and mentoring among childcare directors, and supported 45 childcare directors through post-secondary degrees and a newly created credential among other things. The program concluded having nearly tripled the number of NAEYC accredited centers in Memphis and expanded the number serving predominantly low-income children from 1 to 18 (serving more than 1500 children).  Having learned much from providers about the challenges, especially financial, of achieving and maintaining high-quality care, Memphis Tomorrow is working with local and state partners toward solutions that promote high quality early learning while making it affordable for parents and a sustainable business model for providers.

County Budget Increase for Shelby County Schools (SCS).  In 2016 Memphis Tomorrow joined a broad and diverse coalition advocating for a much-needed budget increase for SCS at a crucial point in time where “maintenance of effort” (state requirements for maintaining a pre-established baseline of funding) by Shelby County government would be reinstated at a new level after a several-year hiatus following the school systems merger/demerger.  Memphis Tomorrow organized information forums to build business community support for the increase, encouraged public support via media, and helped enlist support from the County Mayor and members of the County Commission.  The result was a $22 million increase in the SCS budget / new funding baseline.

Memphis City Schools Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI).  Memphis Tomorrow and a number of our individual members companies, along with many other local partners, supported Memphis City Schools to win the Gates Foundation $90 Million TEI grant to improve instruction and support for teachers.  Local community commitment was required as a condition of the grant, and provided in the form of a $20 Million match and engagement by private sector expertise on operations task forces to do with matters from technology upgrades to human resources management best practices.

School Choice / Charter Schools.  Since Tennessee first authorized the creation of charter schools in 2002, Memphis Tomorrow as an organization as well as our individual members have championed advocacy for improved school choice for children who otherwise face limited options due to financial circumstances. Further, our members have collectively invested tens of millions of dollars in supporting local nonprofit charter schools in many of Memphis’ most underserved communities.

Community Guide to School Funding. Memphis Tomorrow provided funding for facilitation of the City and County Mayors’ jointly appointed Community Task Force on School Funding in 2005-6. As part of that work and, in recognizing a need for community education about how schools were funded, our team led the development of this guide to how schools were funded at the time.

K-12 School Funding Reform.  As a result of the work with the City and County Mayors’ jointly appointed Community Task Force on School Funding in 2005-6, MT facilitated a coordinated Shelby County multi-sector partner campaign in support of changing the state’s “BEP” education funding formula. Others from across the state were involved in the advocacy for change as well, with leadership especially coming from the Bredesen administration. The effort resulted in the new BEP 2.0 funding formula for K-12 education being enacted with significant financial local benefit – in just the first year $48 million additional dollars went to MCS, and approximately $17 million more went to SCS.  While we consider the BEP still to be insufficiently funded, the state has continued to make additional investments. In particular, since Governor Haslam took office in 2011 the state has approved nearly $500 Million in recurring funds for teacher salary increases.

Memphis Tomorrow

Memphis Tomorrow is an association of CEOs of Memphis' largest businesses working with government and civic sectors to promote opportunity and quality of life for all Memphians.

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