"Thirteen million --- or one in five --- American children live in poverty, the overwhelming majority of whom attend schools that receive inequitable and inadequate school funding due to the dependence of poor school districts on limited property taxes to support public education..." —2001, General Synod XXIII Resolution, "Access to Excellent Public Schools: A Child's Civil Right in the 21st Century,"
The church's prophetic witness for justice calls people of faith to condemn inadequate and inequitable school funding, for in a nation with publicly funded, compulsory schools, it is the government's role to provide quality public schools for all children, wherever they live, whatever their race, and whatever their family's circumstances.
Advocacy at the state level is very appropriate, because public school finance is a responsibility defined in the constitutions of forty-nine states as a collaboration (usually uneasy) of state and local governments (Hawaii is the exception with one statewide school district). Federal funds pay for less than 10 percent of the total. Within the majority of states, funding levels remain inequitable among districts that continue to rely on the local property tax for the bulk of school funding, despite thirty years' of lawsuits that have attempted to increase equity by shifting the burden of funding to the state.
You are encouraged to take the leap and help mobilize your congregation or a group in your conference for witness and advocacy to reform in your state's school finance system. Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness, will consult and/or provide resources. Because this subject can be opaque, inaccessible, and overly arcane, she will provide on-going guidance and support for framing a clear, strong, and motivating advocacy agenda and for finding ways to support witness and advocacy over the long-term.
March, 2013: Here are the UCC's 2013 succinct, updated talking points to help faithful advocates reflect on and speak to what needs to happen today in public school reform.
2012: Repairing the Breach: A Just Agenda for Public School Reform—Questions for Federal & State Public Officials provides background on public education policy from the perspective of faith and justice and then on the second page, questions for occasions when there is an opportunity to talk with state or federal representatives.
2012 UCC web page, Child Poverty and Inequality... and Budget Cuts at State and Federal Levels.
Public School Budgets in Crisis
May 23, 2013: Ongoing inequality in Pennsylvania school funding, debates about union contracts, and discussions of privatization wreck havoc on the public schools in Philadelphia: Who's Still Killing Philly Schools? The Status Quo is Now State Control and Permanent Crisis.
May 16, 2013: Witness for Justice column asks Will We Stand Against the Rationing of Education?
April 2013: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights releases Reversing the Rising Tide of Inequality to affirm the importance of the February report from the Equity and Excellence Commission, call Congress, the U.S. Department of Education's Office on Civil Rights to be proactive in addressing school resource inequity, and call state legislatures to action.
February 19, 2013: A Congressionally appointed Equity and Excellence Commission that has been meeting for two years released its report, For Each and Every Child. Acknowledging that test-based accountability has not sufficiently improved public schools in America’s poorest communities, members of the Commission declare that our society must address what is a deplorable 22 percent child poverty rate, highest in the industrialized world. The report emphasizes the responsibility of governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—to ensure that children in America’s poorest communities are well served by quality, well-funded, well-staffed public schools. The report identifies five needs: improving school finance equity; ensuring that all children have well prepared teachers; providing high quality early childhood education; addressing the economic needs of students in high-poverty communities; and improving governance and accountability. The UCC Justice & Witness Ministries presented testimony to the Commission because unequal access to education is among our nation’s deepest injustices.
Whose Child Left Behind? Why? Between 2001 and 2005 a UCC Public Education Task Force was charged by General Synod 23 to, "identify systemic barriers to excellent public education and to recommend strategies to address those barriers." Four years later and after reflecting on site visits to schools in greater Cleveland, Ohio; Phoenix, Arizona; Hartford, Connecticut; and Wartburg, Tennessee, the Task Force reported on, "inequality in inputs from one place to another. Vastly unequal investment will inevitably deny opportunity for the children who attend poorer facilities, in larger classes, and with less investment in teachers' salaries and ongoing training." A study guide for this resource appears in the 2006 Message on Public Education.
Our Faith Informs School Finance Debate Our decisions about the level of public investment and its distribution are ultimately ethical as well as economic questions. In a land of plenty will we commit generously to tend God's lambs, to seek the lost, to bring back the strayed, and to strengthen the weak?
Education Justice at the Education Law Center, Abbott v. Burke litigator
New York, Alliance for Quality Education
Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, DeRolph v. Ohio plaintiff