Schools

British Government Asks Church to Take Over Thousands of State Schools

Photo courtesy Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock.com

British flag grunge on old vintage paper. Photo courtesy Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock.com

Leading secularists are calling on nonreligious parents to fight a government effort that would allow the Church of England to run thousands of state schools.

The schools, or academies, would be privately funded, quasi-independent and accountable to the church for their curricula, organization, admission policies, and teachers’ pay and conditions.

As of July, there were 3,049 such academies operating in England, many financed by businessmen, finance companies, supermarkets, football clubs, and a growing number of faith-based organizations including the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and the largest of all — the Church of England.

Let the Little Children Come: Why Childcare is a Faith Issue

Photo: Empty classroom, Arcady / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Empty classroom, Arcady / Shutterstock.com

As the Faith Based Organizer for the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) — a citywide coalition of more than 300 member agencies and faith institutions — I have the privilege of working with a diverse group of faith leaders. Last spring we were thrust into an important struggle for childcare and after school funding led by the Campaign for Children (C4C), a citywide coalition of organizations advocating for childcare and after school funding. Some may wonder why clergy would be concerned about this issue, but for the clergy I work with, the reason is clear: budgets are moral documents, and what is funded reflects our values. Our clergy know that children are the greatest in God’s kingdom and our investment (or lack thereof) in them will have consequences for our future. 

In New York City obtaining quality education is a serious struggle for parents of all classes. This struggle includes waiting lists that upperclass parents place their unborn children on, intelligence test for 5 year olds, interviews and hustling from one open house to another. Finding childcare is a daunting task, especially for low-income parents. As a child in New York City I knew how important it was to not end up at my “zone school,” which are schools for children who could not get in anywhere else. Growing up in one of the 12 poorest communities in New York City, my zone schools were the worst. From junior high on I had to take buses and trains to get an education. The process of finding childcare is one of the clearest depictions of the greatest lie that controls New York City: “that some people are worth more than others” (NYFJ Faith Rooted Organizing Core Lie Exercise March 2011). 

Living Letters

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?

One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.

"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth"

What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.

The Pages in the Book Go 'Flip, Flip, Flip'

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Sojourners is celebrating our teachers, parents, and mentors as children across the country head back to school. We'll offer a series of reflections on different aspects of education in our country.

My elementary school is a Title I school. About 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and Medicaid. Research shows us that many children raised in poverty struggle to learn to read. 

Common sense tells us that children who don't learn to read can't read to learn. They often reach a frustration level with school by the time they're in the third grade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students can't read at a basic level. I often wonder, "What can I do in my day-to-day work as a teacher to help?"

'I Come From Where They Come'

Custodian mop bucket, Design Pics/Darren Greenwood / Getty Images

Custodian mop bucket, Design Pics/Darren Greenwood / Getty Images

Every school day just after 2 p.m., Sandra pushes her cart into my classroom to clean the bathroom and empty the trash cans. She is the school custodian and my students love her. When students hear her squeaky wheels in the hallway outside our door, they listen for her kind giggle as she enters the room. "Ms. Sandra! Ms. Sandra! Can I help you empty the trash? Can I help you?" they yell out with their hands waving in the air.

She responds, "Jennifer, you look so cute today! How you doin' VicTOR? Francisco, baby, you look like you're doing a good job for Mr. Barton. You come on over and help me today. Anna, honey, that's okay, you can help me tomorrow." She knows all of my students by name.

"Temporary" Recession-Era Cuts Not So Temporary

From investigative-journalism nonprofit Remapping Debate:

"When the recession hit, state revenues — made up primarily of sales and income taxes — declined dramatically, prompting deep cuts to state services. In at least 30 states, funding for K-12 education was lower in fiscal year 2012 than in 2008, despite growing student populations. States have also made deep cuts in health care programs and in higher education funding. State aid to local governments has declined, and state and local governments have shed more than 500,000 jobs since the beginning of 2009.

In state after state, politicians justified the large budget cuts on the grounds that the condition of the state budget made it temporarily necessary to reduce services. ..."

Now income and sales taxes are bouncing back, and at least 25 states are likely to be running a surplus for the fiscal year ending in June. But

"... instead of either restoring cuts in state services or increasing aid to local governments and school districts, several state legislatures are choosing to use their surpluses to cut taxes. Besides Kansas, at least seven other states have passed bills that cut taxes and reduce revenue in future years, and several more are still considering doing so."

Read the full investigative article here.

Hurricanes, Hype, and Hope

Did anyone else get the feeling, as we watched weather reporters wave their arms frantically in swirling motions across oversized maps of the eastern seaboard -- with their eyes bulging as they pushed out whole paragraphs without a single breath for a period -- that this was all hype?

Last weekend, as Irene passed over town after town in the mid-Atlantic, memories of Katrina did not materialize. By the time Irene huffed over New York City on Sunday morning, and the flood of the century was actually just a really big puddle in Battery Park and a floating lifeguard stand in Long Beach, my fear had transformed into complacency. From there I became cynical. By Sunday afternoon I found myself watching the weatherman's bulging eyes as he repeated the mantra of the day: "It's not as bad as we thought it would be, but it's not over." And I thought: "Boy, they'll do anything for ratings."

But it wasn't all hype.

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