Lift 50,000 Residents Out of Poverty
I believe that in the next decade we must lift at least 50,000 Shelby County residents out of poverty.
Unfortunately, many parts of our community are mired in it. In 2016, the national poverty rate was approximately 14 percent. However, the poverty rate in Shelby County was much worse. More than one in five of the residents of Shelby County live in poverty. That means that right now at least 190,000 Shelby County residents live in poverty. It’s nearly twice the number of poor in Davidson County (Nashville); three times the number of poor families in Knox County (Knoxville); and four times the number of poor families in Hamilton County (Chattanooga).
The poverty rate in Memphis, the largest city in Shelby County, is nearly 27 percent. More than four out of ten of our children in Memphis (nearly 45 percent) live in poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau has pegged the Memphis metropolitan area as the poorest in the United States. Worse yet, much of the poverty in Shelby County has been passed from one generation to the next. In some communities, our poverty rate is increasing, even as the country has seen a general decline.
Poverty is our most serious challenge. If Shelby County families are going to get out of poverty, we must create more meaningful opportunity for students to succeed and we must invest in people and communities in need. I believe we must laser-focus on reducing poverty.
Let’s get to work.
State Sen. Lee Harris
How? Invest in Students, People in Need, and Communities
Pre-K for Every Kid in Our County
For years, leaders in our community have talked about making sure that every family in our community has an option for early childhood education. Without high quality pre-K, students start school behind and many never catch up. Unfortunately, not every family has access to early child education and, worse, our county is on the brink of losing some of our pre-K classes. Lee Harris will work to, finally, fulfill this community’s long-standing desire for universal pre-K.
Expand Apprenticeship Opportunities and
Job Training for Students
Every student in Shelby County should have the opportunity to gain skills that will lead to a job after high school graduation. We need to work to improve the quality and number of children participating in career and technical training. Lee Harris will work with school boards, district superintendents, community stakeholders, labor groups, and the business community to encourage student participation in existing apprenticeship and job training programs. But, that’s not enough. We need to expand the number of students who are exposed to job skills and training by making these opportunities widely available to students in their last two years of high school. We must forge strong relationships with union apprenticeship programs and corporate vocational programs. We must ensure we deliver the right programs to students and young adults or deliver students and young adults to the right programs. We need to expand the number of students who have access to summer job opportunities that connect them to industry.
Get Out-Front with a Tech-Focused Education
We need our students at the forefront of the Tech Economy. That means we need to increase their exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning. A STEM education offers the greatest access to high-paying career opportunities for our next generation. Lee Harris will work with the school boards and superintendents to expand offerings in computer science, coding, and advanced placement courses. In the 21st century, the most important information source is the Internet. Lee Harris will work to increase access in Shelby County to cheap, fast, and reliable Internet access.
Attack Blight in Neighborhoods
The decline in neighborhoods is one of our community’s most vexing and important challenges. Lee Harris believes we should expand the tools County government uses to remediate blight. Lee Harris also believes boarded up, empty Shelby county school buildings should not blight our neighborhoods. Some of these former school buildings could be put to other uses and Lee Harris will work with the Shelby County School board and superintendent to re-use and adapt these former school buildings.
A Stable and Vibrant Public Hospital
We must make sure everyone who lives in Shelby County has access to healthcare. Part of that means making sure that our only public hospital, Regional One, stays open and stable. The Republican Tennessee legislature’s decision to refuse federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act could spell dire consequences for our only county public hospital. Lee Harris will appoint leaders to the board of Regional One who believe in expanded access to healthcare and those leaders won’t play politics with healthcare. Additionally, Lee Harris will continue to push the Tennessee General Assembly to expand Medicaid and take advantage of federal resources that would flow to our county hospital, Regional One, and other healthcare providers.
Quality and Modern Facilities for Student Learning
For too many years, many of our students go to class in buildings that may be falling down around them. We have hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance for our school buildings. That means leaky roofs, failing cooling and heating systems, and general disrepair. We cannot expect our students or teachers to do their best in this environment. We must ensure that we have safe, modern learning environments that support our students and teachers. We have put this issue off for too long. Lee Harris will support finding the resources to restore and modernize our school buildings, especially in underserved communities.
Get to a Job, Keep a Job
Historically, our County has not invested in public transit, even though transit is critical to ensure those in need can get a job and keep a job. Lee Harris will push for reduced transportation costs for lower-income workers. That means Lee Harris will fight for reduced fares on MATA for those who rely on public transit and reduced parking fees in our central core for those who drive.