Heidi Shafer taking interesting stance on schools

As part of his Friday press conference, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton stressed how unified Memphis's elected officials -- of all races and all parties -- are on the issue of whether Memphis has the right to determine the future of public education for its students. He admitted there were a few exceptions, and while he didn't call out specific names, he sounded disgusted that state legislators who represent Memphians voted for State Sen. Mark Norris's legislation. Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White are two Republican legislators who fit that description; their districts encompass parts of Memphis and the suburbs.

In terms of the County Commission and City Council, the votes have been almost unanimous -- only newly-elected District 1 commissioner Heidi Shafer has openly opposed plans that might expedite the merger, should voters approve the March 8 referendum to transfer administrative control of Memphis's schools to Shelby County. Shafer and fellow Republicans Mike Ritz and Mike Carpenter also represent District 1, which has 65 precincts -- 54 in Memphis, eight in unincorporated Shelby County and three in Germantown. Ritz and Carpenter have become staunch supporters of the March 8 referendum.

Today, however, Shafer moved somewhat toward the city position -- she abstained on the Commission's vote increase the size of a unified county school board from the current seven-member suburban-only body to a 27-member body so Memphis has proportional representation. It passed anyway, 9-3, with the three suburban-only commissioners (Terry Roland, Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas) voting against.

Shafer explained the non-vote: "I'm very concerned about potential loss of Title 1 funding if we do combine the systems."

Title 1 is the federal-government program that provides supplemental funding for districts based on student needs. It's unclear why Shafer believes Title 1 would go down in the event of a merger, at least not why it might go down for Memphis schools and students. Reading the federal guidelines, it appears that schools with Memphis students would be more likely to gain more Title 1 funding, not less.

Some links on Title 1 for those who want to read more on it:

http://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/index.html

http://www.brighthub.com/education/k-12/articles/11105.aspx

http://dpi.state.wi.us/titleone/faq.html

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