Editorial: Positive signs for a merger

On August 13, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

Proponents of consolidation should be encouraged by the words of the state’s leadership.

August 13, 2011

Advocates of Memphis-Shelby County school consolidation for nearly a year have been fending off efforts to prevent change in the local public education system.

They surely must have been encouraged this week by the remarks of the state’s most powerful political and educational leaders.

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville: “Everybody needs to get on about the business of putting together the (consolidation) planning commission and making up for lost time. They’ve lost several months now, and they need to focus on what’s in the best interests of the children, and the first order of business is to get that planning commission in place.”

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman: Educational achievement gaps between poor and more affluent children and between African-American and white children in Tennessee are “astounding and unacceptable.”

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam: “I’ll go further than that: Those gaps are immoral, and if we want to change our state, that’s what we have to change.”

Consolidation advocates have been wondering where the next shot at their plan would come from since Monday, when U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued a ruling that set the consolidation wheels in motion.

The ruling inspired some opponents of the merger to suggest a special session of the General Assembly to pass legislation to derail the merger. But Norris was quick to counter that there is “absolutely no need” for it.

As Norris suggested, it is in the best interests of Shelby County schoolchildren to move ahead with the plan approved by the Memphis City Schools board, the City Council and Memphis voters.

And it is in the best interests of the state to consider all possible means of closing the gap between white and African-American children.

If Tennessee expects to compete with the rest of the South for new industry and other forms of economic development, it cannot afford to have a large contingent of citizens who are unprepared to meet the challenges and technological demands of the 21st century workplace.

The achievement gap is especially profound in Shelby County, where a more efficient, properly funded system with representation from every corner of the county is the best hope for improvement.

There is, indeed, no time to waste in putting that system in place.

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