1999 NCC News ArchivesReauthorization Of Education Act Framed As A "Moral Issue"
September 28, 1999, WASHINGTON. D.C. Religious leaders' appealing to Congress to reauthorize, indeed strengthen, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act frame it as "a deeply moral issue," reminding senators and representatives that "education is the only possible escape from poverty" for millions of poor children.
Representing 13 organizations including the National Council of Churches, the Christian, Jewish and other signers of a letter delivered Sept. 24 to all members of Congress especially press the importance of the federal Title I program, designed to compensate for the "uneven and unfair" local tax base for education.
They ask Congress to resist efforts to convert the Title I program into block grants to the states, urge work to ensure that Title I funds are targeted to the schools serving the highest percentages of very poor families and to the poorest school districts, and "oppose accountability provisions in Title I that could result in denial of educational services for the very children who need them most.
Further, they support strong funding for bilingual education under Title VII, stating, "Increased funding is needed for teacher training and for strong programs in English as a second language. We believe all children should learn English. However, as people of faith who reflect many cultures, we also understand the need for each student to see himself/herself reflected in the curriculum through bilingual and multicultural programs." The full text of the letter follows, along with a list of signers.
We are writing on behalf of many within the religious community to urge your consideration of one of the great moral issues facing the 106th Congress the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As Christians, Jews, and other people of faith, we act in the awareness that children are a gift of God, made in God's image. The prophetic call for justice for the poor and excluded and Jesus' deep concern for "the least of these" reminds us that there are no more vulnerable, less fortunate persons than children in poverty. Because education is the only possible escape from poverty for millions of these children, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a deeply moral issue. As you consider all the options presented to you in the upcoming debate, we urge you to keep several fundamental principles in mind:
Maintain the overall objective of the highly successful, federal Title I program, and resist efforts to convert it into block grants to the states.
The federal Title I program was designed in 1965 (1) to compensate for what expert agree is the uneven and unfair tax base for education at the local level due to reliance on property tax, and (2) to address the correlation of low student achievement with family poverty. A strong federal Title I program is even more important during the 1999 Reauthorization for two reasons:
During the past 35 years, the poor have been increasingly abandoned in the urban core by the middle class who have moved to the suburbs; declining student achievement is correlated with the isolation and concentration of families in poverty in specific districts and specific schools, and with the virtual resegregation of urban schools in America.
State governments have done a poor job of compensating for disparities in local tax base; according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, across the country school funding in wealthy districts in 1998 averaged 24% more than in poor districts, even though residents of poor districts taxed themselves at higher rates.
Work to ensure that Title I funds are targeted (1) to the schools serving the highest percentages of very poor families, and (2) to the poorest school districts.
Please expand target grant provisions to increase funding for a district as its number of poor children increases.
Please expand school wide programs to encourage comprehensive reform across the curriculum in a high poverty school rather than mere pull-out programs.
Oppose accountability provisions in Title I that could result in denial of educational services for the very children who need them most.
A better plan is to support (1) staff development and (2) efforts to spread the word about best practices among all districts receiving Title I funding.
Support strong funding for bilingual education under Title VII.
Increased funding is needed for teacher training and for strong programs in English as a second language. We believe all children should learn English. However, as people of faith who reflect many cultures, we also understand the need for each student to see herself/himself reflected in the curriculum through bilingual and multicultural programs. Affirming the cultures of all children increases educational opportunity.
We seek your support for increased funding for federal compensatory education in Title I and bilingual programs in Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We firmly oppose devolving these responsibilities to the states through block grants. Nothing is more critical to the future of the United States than ensuring that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is adequately funded and that it continues to target funds to the most needy students.
Ann Delorey, Church Women United
Herbert Blinder, American Ethical Union, Washington Ethical Action Office
Lois M. Dauway, The United Methodist Church, Women's Division
Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Thomas H. Hart, The Episcopal Church
Rev. Jay Lintner, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA
James H. Matlack, American Friends Service Committee
Dr. Henry M. Smith, American Jewish Congress
Kenneth Sutton, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
The Rev. Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett, General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
Rt. Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus, Mar Thoma Church
Rev. Jay Lintner, United Church of Christ
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