Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Memphis: School's Out Forever!


It’s not just a line in an Alice Cooper song anymore. This August, Memphis, TN students will not return to classrooms, at least not until a funding dispute between Memphis City Schools (MCS) and the city council. The MCS school board voted last Tuesday to delay the start of the school year until the city of Memphis pays the $78 million it owes to fund the upcoming school year.

President Obama attends graduation ceremonies at Memphis' historically black Booker T. Washington H.S. in May. The high performing school will not be opening in August unless a city-wide funding dispute is resolved. Source: AFP/Getty Images
Playing Games With Education
The day following the vote, the city scrounged up  $3 million of the $8 million it owes the school district from last school year (2010-2011). However, all signs from the city council indicate that the MCS will not receive an upfront payment for coming school year anytime soon. The mayor and council members have insisted that Memphis simply doesn’t have the cash on hand and will pay up after September 1st when tax revenues are due.
The dispute comes as a result of the city of Memphis consistently failing to meet its financial obligations to its schools over the past three years. School board members have justified their decision, citing that the city has delayed its payment of legally required funds each year since 2008. Furthermore, the city came up short when it did pay, accumulating over $150 million in IOU’s over the years.
Attacking Public Schools
City officials are calling out the school board’s move as unnecessarily dramatic, but consider the debt the city owes its school system. Also consider the fact that school board members have been quietly telling reporters that they fear a pending court decision to merge the city of Memphis with Shelby County would essentially cancel the city’s obligation to pay its debts to the school system.
So we have a city that might be trying to wait out its financial obligations to public education after having cut property taxes in 2008, depriving schools of $57 million in funding. Exactly how is this not a concerted effort to defund and kill a public school system? What’s more criminal about these fiscals games is that these delays will be hurting an extremely successful school system serving a Black community that makes up two-thirds of the city’s population.

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