Methodists urged to contact legislators, advocate for funding
By Jessica Brodie
This month, children’s advocates are calling on United Methodists to step up and be a voice for quality education in South Carolina via their legislators.
In November after two decades of litigation on the matter, the state Supreme Court ruled that the S.C. Legislature had failed to meet its constitutional obligations to provide even “minimally adequate” education for public schoolchildren. The high court put the burden on legislators to fix the problem.
The S.C. Conference’s Children in Poverty Task Force views this ruling as an opportunity for United Methodists and others who are passionate about children to talk with their legislators and urge them to fund quality public education.
To that end, the task force has released “A Voice for All our Children: How to Advocate for Quality Education,” an eight-page packet that details exactly how United Methodists can find out who their legislators are, tips on how to contact them, why they should care, what the lawsuit said, theological perspectives, how to hold a town meeting on the matter, and other resources to equip churches to be a voice.
By the time legislators return to Columbia Jan. 13 for the 2015 Regular Session of the S.C. General Assembly, task force members are hoping many in the denomination will have picked up the phone, sent an email or sat down with their legislators and voiced their concerns.
“Churches have said ‘we care about children’s education,’ or they wouldn’t have come forth so strongly with books for the Million Book Effort,” said the Rev. Kathy James, conference Connectional Ministries director. “The next step is how can we be a voice for children who don’t have adequate resources in terms of books, to say to the legislature, ‘Make these necessary changes so these children can also have adequate education, and have education in South Carolina not be dependent on where you were born.’”
Justice, fairness for all
The “how to advocate” packet is a group effort compiled by members of the Children in Poverty task force, many who have a strong background in education and advocacy, namely Arlene Andrews, Jean Osbourne, Dr. Carolyn Prince, Anne Shelton, Matt Brodie, the Rev. Jeri-Katherine Sipes, Whitney Tucker, Martha Timmons and others.
Martha Thompson, chair of the task force, said funding for quality education is an issue of justice and fairness that affects all people.
“Bishop Jack Meadors said many years ago, ‘Children have no money and can’t vote, so we must be their advocate.’ I have remembered his statement and have realized that there are only a few things more vital to the health of a democracy than citizens taking part in the political process, voting and advocacy,” Thompson said. “South Carolina can do better than provide a ‘minimally adequate education’ for our children who will someday be our leaders. I hope our legislators will choose to go ahead and meet the obligation to the children of this state to provide them with adequate education. We can’t afford to wait.”
Thompson said many key talking points and facts are included in the advocacy packet, such as how every dollar invested in high quality preschool education yields up to $7 in savings to society and taxpayers.
The Rev. John Culp brought the legislative advocacy idea to the task force and is pleased to see the group launch a strong toolkit to help United Methodists talk to legislators about quality education.
“If we’re going to help children, why not help them with education?” Culp said. “We’ve got to get the local church involved, not just the conference. We’ve got to get down where the people are. Places like Greenville, Anderson, Columbia, Spartanburg, Florence and Lexington, they dominate the money, and so the money’s got to be shifted to these areas like Allendale, Dillon in Marlboro County and Williamsburg. They don’t have the representation.”
Culp said Psalm 8 speaks to the importance of education, as does Jesus’ own role as rabbi, or teacher.
“Psalm 8 said the crown of glory, the mind, is the crown of our existence; to be able to think, be able to read and write, it’s a God gift,” Culp said, noting funding quality education should be a priority for lawmakers and for all Christians. “Jesus was a teacher, and he taught little children … and we need teachers today who can teach our children.”
Target: Before Jan. 13
James said she doesn’t expect major change overnight, but if United Methodists can talk to legislators now, particularly before the session begins, then maybe some good can be done for children sooner than later.
“It took 20 years to get the Supreme Court ruling, and we cannot assume they will correct it this year, but we need to speak our concerns as people of faith who believe education is one of the most important things for children in poverty,” James said. “We believe Jesus cares about these children, and part of our faith response is to hold our government accountable to a moral standard when it comes to children.”
All United Methodists are called on to contact their legislators, whether in person, by phone, my mail or by email. But if they cannot do so before the session begins Jan. 13, anytime during the session is fine.
“Legislators tell us that hearing from concerned citizens empowers them to act,” James said. “They’re used to hearing from school boards, school administrators, but when they hear from people in the community telling them ‘it matters to us that schools are cared for,’ that is a statement for the common good and not self-interest.”
The “A Voice for All our Children: How to Advocate for Quality Education” packet is available through District and Conference Connectional Ministries, district offices and online as a downloadable pdf on the conference website here.
The task force is also sharing it with the S.C. Christian Action Council and with LARCUM (the ecumenical group comprising bishops of Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist denomination). These groups are encouraged to adapt the packet in any way needed for their specific denominations.