Pre-K money will be split between two suburbs, ASD and Shelby County Schools

More pre-K classrooms will be coming to four districts across Shelby County by Sept. 2.

Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, Bartlett City Schools and Millington Municipal Schools will each receive money for new pre-K classrooms, according to the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation, which is administering the funds.

The Shelby County Commission approved $3 million for pre-K expansion on July 21 but gave it to the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation, a small non-profit with a long history of supporting suburban schools. There was conflicting information coming from several commissioners, articles in the press and among the districts themselves in the days and weeks after the vote about where the money was going to go.

The foundation has decided that the money will be divided up proportionally according to how many students were enrolled in pre-K programs last year, according to commissioner Terry Roland. The only suburban districts to run pre-K last year were Bartlett and Millington. Bartlett has already started advertising spots in a new classroom and Millington’s superintendent said if Millington received enough money it would also add a classroom.

Bartlett decided to add another class once it learned that the district was eligible and that the programs would be fully funded. David Stephens, the superintendent of Bartlett, hadn’t been invited to the foundation’s first meeting and had heard that the foundation wanted Bartlett to start two new pre-K classrooms. He thought Bartlett only had the capacity get only one new class off the ground this year.

“When they had their first meeting we hadn’t sat at the table,” said Stephens.. “Once we got to the table and saw what was proposed, we saw that it was doable.”

Bartlett has two already existing pre-K classrooms that are funded by the state, but those programs require that the district provides matching funds. The money from the county commission will fully fund its new pre-K class without requiring matching funds.

In addition, the county’s money will go to wrap-around services for Bartlett’s students — which can include services such as health care and counseling — in both its new pre-K classroom and its already existing state-funded pre-K classrooms, according to Stephens.

The new programs must give priority to children from low-income backgrounds and the money has to be spent on new classrooms and can’t go to pay for already-existing programs, according to Chris Price, president of the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation.

When the county commission initially granted the money, it wasn’t clear which districts would receive it. The Memphis Daily News and Commercial Appeal initially both reported that the money was headed for Shelby County Schools. Representatives from Bartlett and Millington said they weren’t expecting new pre-K money and were not looking to expand this year beyond the state funds they had already secured.

“That’s not us,” said Georgia Dawson, Millington’s preschool coordinator, just after the $3 million had been voted on by the commission. “Ours are voluntary pre-Ks from the state. You need to talk to Shelby Unified about their pre-K program. We have no involvement with that whatsoever.”

But commissioner Roland, who made one of the deciding votes on the issue, wanted to make sure the suburbs received their fare share.

“I’m not really even in favor of pre-K because a lot of people use it for a daycare,” said commissioner Roland, whose district covers the suburbs. “But I knew if Shelby County Schools was going to get some of that money, then the other suburbs deserved some too.”

The foundation will receive $50,000 of the $3 million to administer the pre-K funds. The grant application that each of the four districts have to fill out will be available on Wednesday, according to Price. Some districts, such as the Achievement School District, still aren’t sure how many new classrooms the money will allow them to fund, according to Letita Aaron.

Shelby County Schools is expected to discuss the new pre-K classrooms at its board work session next week.

The foundation has just recently begun to play an intermediary role for distributing funds for educational purposes accross the county. Between 2001 and 2011 the foundation awarded less than $100,000 per year in money it raised to support suburban schools. But in 2011 and 2012 it raised more than $1 million each year, according to its tax filings. It spent most of the money in 2012 just before the Shelby County Schools merger, when it was responsible for funding the transition committee for the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.