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|National Religious Leaders Travel to Pennsylvania
To Support Growing Public Education Rights Movement
May 14, 2002, Harrisburg, Pa. - The National Council of Churches' Executive Board took its spring meeting to Harrisburg, Pa., May 14-15 to demonstrate the U.S. churches' commitment to quality education for all children.
Some 50 NCC board members and staff joined 150 other advocates at the Pennsylvania State Capitol May 14 in a prayer vigil for public education reform. (Pictured, right: The Rev. Dr. Thomas Hoyt, NCC President Elect, leading prayers. Below: Vigil participants.) The vigil was sponsored by Good Schools Pennsylvania, a growing grassroots movement with strong faith-based support established in 2000 to address the states public education crisis.
Pennsylvania ranks among the nations four worst states in terms of using state funds to ensure that children in the poorest districts get an equal opportunity for a quality education, earning it a D- for educational equity in Education Weeks 2002 annual report on public education. The states share of local educational expenditures declined from 55 percent in 1974-75 to 35 percent in 2001-2002, Good Schools Pennsylvania reports.
"Tell me a childs zip code and I can predict what will happen to the child," Dr. David Hornbeck, former Philadelphia superintendent of schools and a member of the Good Schools Pennsylvania Founding Council, told the NCC Executive Board. The highest spending district spent $14,406 per student, the lowest only $5,302 - a $227,600 a year gap for a classroom of 25 children. The inequity falls hardest on children of color, he said, leading Good Schools Pennsylvania to recognize their mission as a civil rights struggle.
"At a time when public education has become a political battleground, we call on our member churches and nation to remember first and foremost our children. Every child in Pennsylvania should receive a quality education regardless of the community in which he or she is born," said Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary.
The National Council of Churches Executive Board meets four times a year, and the board resolved in February to move its spring meeting from Washington, D.C., to Harrisburg, Pa., in order to demonstrate the Council's deep and longstanding commitment to eliminate poverty be ensuring a quality education for every child.
The NCC in 1999 adopted a policy statement on public education, which points out that "public schools are the primary route for most children - especially the children of poverty - into full participation in our economic, political and community life. As a consequence, all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, have a moral responsibility to support, strengthen and reform the public schools."
A pilot project co-sponsored by the NCC and the Pennsylvania Council of Churches to mobilize congregational support for public education reform led to the formation of Good Schools Pennsylvania. NCC Deputy General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, represents the NCC on the Good Schools Pennsylvania Founding Council.
"What more pressing issue could bring us together than the education of children?," asked Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an NCC Executive Board member, at the May 14 vigil. "We join with other faiths and citizens of Pennsylvania to call on the leaders of this state to be just and equitable in their investment in and commitment to education for all children.
"The NCC has a historic commitment to people of color, people in poverty and new immigrants," he said, "so when we see in the allocation of resources in Pennsylvania thse groups bear the burden of inequity, we must speak publicly."
United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, of Nashville, Tenn., also an NCC Executive Board member, noted at the vigil that "the United Methodist Council of Bishops has a worldwide initiative on children and poverty. At root is helping a child develop to his or her fullest potential. Education is at the heart.
"For me and for the church this is a very critical issue," Bishop Talbert said. "If we fail as the church to help children we have failed the call of God to the church to ensure the well-being of what Jesus called 'the least of these.'"
"The fact that NCC Executive Board members agreed to come all the way to Harrisburg to bring a unified witness shows they sense the seriousness of this struggle in Pennsylvania," said Bishop Roy Almquist of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Americas Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod - one of five Pennsylvania Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal bishops at the May 14 vigil.
"We feel desperately the time has come for Pennsylvania to address the quality of education being determined by your zip code," said Bishop Almquist. "This really is a civil rights issue -- the damage of racism, the damage to children from this immoral allocation. This is very exciting that the NCC is here."
The NCCs Executive Board took time at its national meeting to call on the Pennsylvania legislature to pass comprehensive public education reform this legislative session. According to Good Schools Pennsylvania, comprehensive public education reform must include:
1) A system that ensures adequate funds are equitably distributed to every district;
2) The implementation of quality education principles that are proven to boost student performance; and
3) The establishment of an accountability system to reward schools that improve and consequences for those schools that have persistently poor performance.
Good Schools Pennsylvania representatives came from Erie, the Poconos, Mon Valley, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Philadelphia and surrounding counties, Lancaster and the Lehigh Valley. "It is clear by the statewide geographic representation today that Pennsylvanians are united in their resolve to find a solution to the crisis in public education. We stand here today to call on the next Governor to make sure that every child can attend a high quality public school," said Ellen P. Smith, a Good Schools Pennsylvania Chapter Leader in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Good Schools Pennsylvania is a non-profit coalition of grassroots, statewide and national organizations seeking to mobilize parents, students and concerned citizens to advocate for comprehensive public education reform this legislative session. The organization is training 10,000 Pennsylvanians on the basics of school finance, school performance and quality school practices. The Campaign has offices in Lancaster, Allentown, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, McKeesport, Erie, Hatboro, Wilkes Barre and Havertown.
The National Council of Churches is the nation's leading ecumenical organization. Its 36 Protestant and Orthodox member denominations comprise 50 million persons in 140,000 local congregations across the United States.
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