Memphis early childhood advocates discuss potential impact of universal pre-k

Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 4:26 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - President Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan has many universal pre-school advocates feeling hopeful.

The president announced a spending plan that would make it easier for high-poverty schools to serve free meals, fund programs to train and support teachers, and would expand universal prekindergarten access.

“Early childhood advocates, including myself, across the country and in Memphis are so excited about his plan about his vision for pre-K for three and four-year-olds,” said Dr. Kandace Thomas, executive director of First 8 Memphis.

First 8 Memphis is a non-profit that seeks to establish a strong educational base for every child in Shelby County. Thomas says the need for universal Pre-K in Memphis and Shelby County is great.

“Pre-K is really an opportunity for a young child, one to get used to school and a school environment, learn how to take turns, listen to a teacher or a teacher’s aid and their classmates, and just build, begin to build the building blocks of school and lifelong learning,” said Divalyn Gordon, executive director for Early Childhood Education at Shelby County Schools (SCS). “Biden’s plan would provide $200 billion for universal, high-quality preschool to all three and four-year-olds. That proposal would rely on partnerships with states.

Gordon says each year, the district serves more than 5,000 students at select elementary schools across Shelby County and multiple community partner sites with around 8,000 parents applying for the program. She says this American Families Plan would be beneficial to many SCS families.

“Now, all of those students who I have on my wait list whose parents are sitting, waiting patiently for opportunities that may come up because we may lose students over the course of the year, will now have an opportunity to be enrolled in our classrooms to be provided with that quality preschool program, but now at no cost,” Gordan said.

Earlier this month, SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray announced one of his high impact initiatives for the district’s “Reimagining 901” proposal was quality Pre-K for all students

WMC Action News 5 reached out to DeSoto County Schools for a comment on pre-k in the district. A spokesperson released the following statement:

“Pre-school is an important piece in children’s intellectual development, and district officials would maximize this opportunity. Funding and teacher availability will be essential. Additionally, assistance with facility expansion will be important in locations such as DeSoto County where there are few available elementary classrooms to accommodate thousands of new students.”

Details of Biden’s proposals are subject to change as he negotiates with lawmakers to win support for legislation.

For more information about First 8 Memphis, click here.

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