When the news reporter approached me, I was milling about in the grass, adjusting my pastoral stole, preparing to be present with some of our local teachers at a press conference.
He wanted to know why I was there. I answered with a simple affirmation of our public schools and the teachers that serve in them.
But he was asking a different question, and he persevered: but why? Why are you here, as a faith leader, in support of public education?
I stared at him for a moment, summoning all of those things that are true about public schools and God’s children, young and old, who gather there. As stories about community and brokenness, wealth and poverty, injustice and restoration, passion and exhaustion, the love of discovery and the lack of paper, and the provision of care for the least of these swarmed, fighting for the spot on the tip of my tongue, I wondered if I might ought to simply say: because of Jesus.
Because of Jesus.
Those who undergird their strain against systems of inequity and injustice with the simple refrain that God is love, or that Jesus loves us, are not wrong.
But to those who tune out such faithful proclamations as liberal propaganda, there is more that can be said.
And I would like to say some of it.
Jesus taught about the impoverished and marginalized. His message was clear. Feed them. Eat with them. Heal them. Carry them to safety. Do not try to use rule of procedure to get out of it. Do not act like you don’t know who your neighbor is. Do not let your love of prosperity or orderliness or possessions distract you from working for the kingdom of God here and now – on earth as it is in heaven. There is no need to cherry pick citations from the gospels because these admonitions fill them.
1 in 4 children in North Carolina live in poverty. More than 1 in 10 live in extreme poverty. More than 600,000 children in North Carolina do not have access to adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Children who are raised in poverty face struggles that their peers do not face, and their academic outcomes hang in the balance. Click HERE to look at statistics about poverty among children in North Carolina, especially with regard to impacts on education and on school funding. Click HERE to read the 2018 North Carolina Child Health Report Card. Click HERE to look at the data in your own county.
Our public schools are hubs of serving the impoverished and marginalized. Public Schools are required by law to provide transportation to and from school, and to provide transportation on specially equipped buses for children who are differently abled. They (attempt to) provide school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and breakfast and lunch. But there is not enough funding to do these things well. And because of that, the children in our care as a community are in danger.
Let me say that clearly for those in the back: a lack of funding puts our children in danger.
I have had the opportunity to listen more in the past week than I usually do.
- I heard about students falling on or being inappropriately disciplined on buses because their physical disabilities are not being addressed.
- I heard about schools where sinks don’t work and hands cannot be washed and soap does not exist.
- I heard about schools where there is constantly pee on the floor in the bathrooms and children walk through it and then back into their classrooms.
- I heard about schools that only see nurses for a couple of hours a week even though they have children with grave medical fragilities who need monitoring and medicating all day every day.
- I heard about schools with hundreds of students on free or reduced lunch who must be fed something no matter how drastically child nutrition budgets are cut.
- I heard about schools that have had trailers for over a decade, who must simply bring entire classes into the main building any time there are dangerous storms.
- I heard stories about schools in such desperate need of repair that windows are broken and the ceilings have holes.
- I heard about teachers who show up to school exhausted and fragile because of the second and third jobs which they must work so that their own children can eat. (Click HERE for a link to information about free and reduced lunches, and consider where a teacher in your district who provides the only income for his or her family might fall.)
- And on top of that I have heard stories about classrooms with books that were printed when George W. Bush was still president – if knowledge is power, then we are in trouble.
And these stories are not outliers.
They are happening all across the state. Again and again. We are failing to care for our impoverished and marginalized because we are failing to adequately fund the schools that meet their needs today and educate them for tomorrow. In these failures we perpetuate inequity and injustice. We secure the status quo, which is an abomination. With these failures, we jeopardize both the present and the future of our children. Our schools must be adequately funded.
But the poignant reality is that it is not only our children who are marginalized or impoverished who are in jeopardy. No one is free until all are free. Liberty for some is meaningless when these conditions persist. Until all of our children have access to the food, clothing, and shelter required to live, all of us suffer from the sickness of our brokenness. Until all of our children can be educated in schools that are clean and safe and staffed with the most qualified educators who can give their full attention to the art of teaching because they are paid a decent wage, all of us suffer from the brokenness. Until each mind and each body is valued and accommodated – wheelchairs, crutches, processing disorders, language barriers, life-threatening allergies, autism, health disparities accounted for – then all of us suffer from the brokenness.
We must not lose sight of the common good. Because we worship a God who knows each of us by name and who counts the hairs on our heads.
We must not believe the scarcity narrative. Because we worship a God of abundance.
There is enough. It may need to be budgeted differently. But there is enough.
Faith communities must commit to showing up as advocates for the public schools, to championing the common good, and to articulating a story more powerful than the narrative of scarcity.
Because of Jesus.
Please join us by walking to the Sanctuary. Parking is unavailable.
People of faith from across North Carolina are invited to come together to learn more about what is at stake with public education in our state. We will recommit ourselves to drawing near to our public schools with advocacy and support. Following this event, you are invited to join the Rally for Respect at Bicentennial Plaza at 3 p.m. For more details and updates as the event gets closer, follow the event page here.
The Council is asking that churches across North Carolina make a special effort to affirm and support this day of advocacy. We have put together a support plan to help make sure you are prepared for the day. You can find all of that information, as well as a printable PDF version, by clicking here.
Visit the NCAE Advocacy Day page here for a schedule of events, parking information, contact information for lawmakers, and other valuable resources for how to get more involved in the work surrounding public education. For more information and updates via social media, visit the event page here. For questions, contact NCAE President Mark Jewell at 800-662-7924 ext. 200, or firstname.lastname@example.org.