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Religious and Public Education Communities Unite
on Behalf of Children;
Faith Groups Pledge to Support Public Schools
January 21, 2004, Washington, D.C. - (NCC/NEA) The worlds of public education and religion rarely intersect, but in a historic move, leaders of national education and religious organizations recently joined forces to address the needs of public school students. The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) and the National Education Association (NEA) convened a daylong interfaith meeting to develop proposals for how religious groups can work with parents, teachers and administrators to support and improve public schools.
The January 14 gathering drew close to 70 national, state and local leaders, representing Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Bah’ai congregations, as well as the National PTA, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National School Boards Association, among others.
Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, told the summit, “Educating every child in America to the fullest extent of his or her potential is as much a moral imperative as it is a civic duty. We are on a mission to great public schools for every child, and I can think of no better way to achieve this goal than to partner with the community and this includes working with institutions of faith.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC, agreed. “I believe in the separation of church and state, but not in the separation of people of faith from institutions of government,” Edgar said. “If we seek, I know we will find productive and legal ways for people of faith to support public schools, and given that public schools are our nation’s largest civic institution, we must work together.”
The group agreed that one of the greatest challenges for public education is to find ways to close the achievement gap, particularly between children attending poor urban schools and those attending affluent suburban schools. Some speakers, including Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), addressed the continuing disparities in funding for schools attended by children of color, even 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated schools. He asserted that if students are required to take standardized tests, governments should be required to equalize educational opportunity.
The faith groups decided to advocate for legislation to eliminate the enormous funding gap between schools attended by the nation’s poor children and those for the affluent.
Other concrete ideas for collaboration emerged from the gathering. Roundtable participants suggested, for example, that churches promote public education in their services by congratulating honor roll students and public school teachers, encouraging their congregations to consider teaching as a profession, supporting mentoring programs and offering donations of books, school supplies and clothing for students in need. The group also agreed to focus on closing the achievement gap and teacher recruitment and retention.
Leaders of both communities plan to share their ideas with respective colleagues and constituencies at the state and local levels, beginning with NEA state affiliates. The group also discussed the possibility of another national meeting later this year.
See also NCC Statement February 24, 2004: Secretary Paige's Statement Equating NEA with Terrorists Was Wrong, Mean, National Council of Churches Says
The National Council of Churches USA is the leading ecumenical force in the United States. The NCC’s 36 member denominations count 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations.
The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 2.7 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. For more information, visit www.nea.org
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