Most surveyed favor Tupelo tuition plan

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Daily Journal on Tuesday asked 15 randomly selected Tupelo residents the same question: Would you support a 5-mill property tax increase to fund college tuition for Tupelo Public School District students?
Thirteen said yes.
The two who said no declined to be named, saying only that everyone should pay their own way to college.
Of those who responded favorably to the plan, which was proposed this week by Mayor Jack Reed Jr., four have children currently enrolled in the district. The rest either have no children or have children who already graduated from Tupelo schools, attend school in other districts or are still too young to enroll.
“I think that would be a good opportunity, especially for kids whose families can’t pay for college,” said Megan Caldiero, a Ward 5 resident with a 3-year-old daughter.
Caldiero said she supports the tuition guarantee, but it might not be enough to keep her in the school district. She indicated a preference for the Lee County system because of what she deems a better academic program.
“My daughter’s college is paid for anyway,” Caldiero said. “I’m in the military, and I can use my G.I. bill to pay for her school.”
Tamicka Martin isn’t as fortunate. The Ward 4 resident must finish repaying her own student loans before thinking about how she’ll fund her 9-year-old son’s college education. A tuition guarantee program for Tupelo, she said, would be a lifesaver.
“I think it’s worth it to pay higher taxes for that,” Martin said. “You’re going to have to pay taxes anyway, it might as well be going toward something good.”
The plan, called Tupelo Promise, would use the 5-mill property tax to generate $2 million annually for the scholarship program. Five mills amounts to about $75 in new taxes annually for someone with a $150,000 home.
Tupelo students who have been in the district since their freshman year would get a 65 percent scholarship to any in-state college or university. In-state tuition at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi is roughly $5,500 per year. That doesn’t include books, lodging or meals.
The scholarship percentage increases by 5 percent for each additional, consecutive year they’re enrolled in the district. Those who have attended since kindergarten would get a 100 percent tuition guarantee.
Tupelo Promise still is in its infancy, though, and needs more finessing before the City Council will consider it. Reed had proposed it as part of a sweeping proposal to retain and regrow the city’s middle class.
Benefits worth it
Many residents said they supported the initial concept, even though they wouldn’t directly benefit.
“You ought to be able to put up $75 a year for a kid to have a better life,” said Thomas Allred, a Ward 3 resident whose own children attend school in Fulton because the family used to live there.
“It gives people a chance to do something they otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do,” he said. “And it’ll be there for them whether their parents are there or not.”
Asked whether he would return his kids to Tupelo schools if the program passed, Allred said no because they wouldn’t qualify; both are nearly done with high school.
Ward 1 residents Jean and Steve Cooper, whose children are grown, said they support the tax increase if it helps raise the community’s education level.
“The opinion that you don’t need college because you can just get a job at the factory isn’t true anymore,” Steve Cooper said. “I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t support this plan.”
Neither does Stephen Malone of Ward 6 who, despite having no children of his own, said he’d gladly pay higher taxes to send kids to college – especially if it lowers Tupelo High School’s dropout rate.
“It’s quite a deal,” agreed Annette Bannerman, a Ward 5 resident with three children in Tupelo schools. “You’d get more than just the $75 back.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.