How Much Money Can a Half-Cent Save in the Long Game?


Will Shelby county voters open more school doors to its poorest and most vulnerable children?

That’s the question posed in an column by Commercial Appeal writer Wendy Thomas.  The piece focuses on Shelby County Resolution No.18A, which is on the ballot in November.  Voters will decide whether to raise the local sales tax by a half-cent.

The remedy could follow the kids into adulthood, where they’re less likely to be arrested, on welfare or a single parent. It could also make them more likely to finish high school, enter college, keep a job and own a home. The solution isn’t cheap and has no money-back guarantee.

– Wendy Thomas, Commercial Appeal columnist

Both Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are in favor of universal pre-K, but differ on how it should be funded. Wharton supports the sales tax increase, Luttrell does not. 

In her column, Thomas cites a 40-year longitudinal study conducted in Michigan that has followed the lives of 123 African American children born into impoverished families. The research began in the 1960s with half the children attending a high-quality pre-k program, and the other half receiving no pre-k education.  The most recent follow-up to the study interviewed participants now in their 40s:

The study found that adults at age 40 who had the preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.

What is compelling from an economic perspective is that investment in early childhood has been shown to also produce significant savings to taxpayers. Not in the short term, as the upfront costs are signficant, but over the long haul – particularly among economically disadvantaged children.   Read this analysis brief comparing two pre-K studies. 

The issues behind this tax increase are critical.  Look for this referendum when you vote November 6th!

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Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. Memphis, Tennessee