First 8 Memphis gives $1M to NEXT Memphis to strengthen early education

A preschool student shows his classmate a spider he made from pipe cleaners and a paper cup.
First 8 Memphis on Monday announced a $1 million investment in Memphis NEXT, a move that will improve the quality of 4,000 child care slots by 2023. (Allison Shelley / The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages)

A Memphis nonprofit dedicated to strengthening early childhood education offerings in Shelby County will invest $1 million in a shared services child care initiative.

In an announcement Monday, First 8 Memphis said the three-year grant to NEXT Memphis will improve the quality of 4,000 child care slots by 2023 by directly supporting local early care and education providers.

The investment is part of an ongoing community effort to improve the state of early childhood education — birth to third grade — and better prepare Shelby County children for kindergarten. According to the First 8 website, just over 40% of children in Shelby County are kindergarten ready, and only about a quarter of the county’s third-grade students can read at grade level.

The grant also comes as the pandemic continues to exacerbate the already-fragile child care industry — long affected by tight margins, low wages, and high turnover — and highlight its importance in keeping the U.S. economy going.

Kandace Thomas, executive director of First 8 Memphis, said the investment directly aligns with the county’s Early Childhood Plan by ensuring strong systems and supports for local providers.

NEXT Memphis is a shared services child care initiative housed at Porter Leath that provides high-quality education and health services for children, including advice from early childhood experts, training and support for teachers, and business assistance for child care centers. The organization also partners with family service providers to connect families with community resources.

As the central hub for early care and education in Shelby County, First 8 will track data and progress among the many child care and education providers in NEXT Memphis’ network.

“These dollars mean more teachers, family service workers, and caregivers will get the critical resources they need to help more families and children,” said Chloe Moore, director of NEXT Memphis.

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