The Rev. Efrain Cotto of Community of Joy UCC in Philadelphia addresses the rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Looking on is the Rev. Kwame Osei Reed of the Central Atlantic Conference. Maria Washington photo.
Three United Church of Christ ministers addressed about 300 public education and First Amendment advocates on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 20, while across the street, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Cleveland school voucher case. Protestors held signs proclaiming, "Every Child Counts," and "Public Funds for Public Schools."
The pastors said they opposed vouchers as a distraction from the need to improve funding for the nation's public schools that serve nearly 50 million children.
The Cleveland voucher program is "merely a scheme for taking money away from the public schools, which educate 90 percent of our children," said the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C. "I don't believe public money should be used to support the church and its mission."
The Rev. Efrain Cotto, pastor of Community of Joy UCC in Philadelphia, decried the tactics of voucher promoters who "ask poor parents to buy into a scheme that undermines the education of the vast majority of children including their own."
"Cynical people are trying to get poor parents to bless this agenda, because once the victims are co-opted, the poor themselves can be blamed when vouchers don't solve the real problems in public schools," Cotto said.
The Rev. Kwame Osei Reed, the UCC's Potomac Association Minister and an attorney, said vouchers are not going to provide enough money to help poor families fund private school educations. "It's like giving a 10-foot rope to help someone out of a 40-foot hole."
"The Sixth Circuit got it right. They struck down the Cleveland voucher program because it supports religious instruction. That's unconstitutional. The Supreme Court should uphold the lower court's decision," Reed said.
In 1985, the General Synod affirmed "the right of parents to choose alternative, private, religious, or independent schools, but (the church) continues to declare that those schools should be funded by private sources of income." In 2001, the board of directors of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries reaffirmed this position.
Jan Resseger is Minister for Public Education and Witness with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.