Counting Kids at MCS

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Remember the tardy bell? When you were a few seconds late for class, or a few minutes late for school?

Well, in Memphis there's a different definition of tardy. Apparently, according to Memphis City Schools officials, tens of thousands of students are tardy by a few weeks. They don't start coming to class under well after Labor Day.

Their presence is crucial this year. For the first time in memory, the Memphis City Council, which has to fund the schools, is taking a hard look at enrollment in MCS. The early estimates have ranged from 92,000 to 120,000. In other words, as many as 28,000 students could be "tardy." If they are, instead, not really there at all, it's a difference of about $300 million in state and local funding, at the going rate of $10,300 per student.

Watch for the biggest, most intensive round-up of school kids ever in the month of September. The survival of several underenrolled schools could be at stake.

Here's a summary of the different enrollment numbers provided by various state and local sources.

The 2009 Tennessee Report Card says the enrollment at that time was 104,829.

The 2007 Tennessee Report Card said the enrollment then was 110,753.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in a January ruling that said Memphis is obligated to fund the schools an additional $57 million, said, incorrectly and without attribution, that MCS "serves approximately 112,000 students."

Two weeks ago, Superintendent Kriner Cash told the school board the enrollment in the first week of class was 92,378.

By the end of that week, an MCS spokesman had reported that the enrollment was 96,678.

And Cash said that late enrollees could bring the number to 118,000 or even 120,000.

If the "official" 2010 enrollment comes in at under 100,000, Cash & Co. will have some explaining to do to the Memphis City Council and its constituents about school funding. And if it comes in at over 105,000, they will have to explain why 13,000 students and their parents can't get to class when school starts and, in that case, what hope they and their teachers have of accomplishing anything.

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