HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Executive Board of the U.S. National Council of Churches (NCC) met here May 14 to stand in solidarity with Good Schools PA advocates for public education reform. Together they are calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to pass comprehensive public education reform legislation that would provide funding equity for the state’s schools.

The NCC is the nation’s leading ecumenical organization, comprised of 140,000 local congregations with 50 million members. Good Schools PA, an education fair funding advocacy organization, brought nearly 200 education advocates from all over the state to join the NCC Executive Board in a prayer vigil in the state capital.

‘Justice for our children is a spiritual issue, a matter of faith and morality,’ said NCC President Elenie Huszagh.

The diverse crowd representing many denominations stood on the steps of the capitol rotunda as Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary, led them in a liturgy for the children of Pennsylvania. ‘Let us stand together, pray together and stay together to assure a quality education for all children,’ echoed the voices.

‘Today we stand with you, our brothers and sisters in Pennsylvania, and recognize that Pennsylvania spends nearly 10 times more annually per prisoner at $35,302 than on the average pupil at $3,709,’ said Edgar.

In Pennsylvania, where 85 percent of all students attend public schools, $11.68 is allocated for education per thousand dollars in gross state product. Comparatively, New Jersey spends $43.43, New York spends $40.31 and Ohio spends $39.55. Polls in Pennsylvania have shown that 83 percent said improving education was their top priority.

‘We gather to bring a cry for justice and opportunity for all children to our state capitol to those pledged to protect and serve all children,’ said Bishop Thomas Hoyt.

The participants in the prayer vigil pledged to support all children in Pennsylvania. They asked the state to ensure adequate, equitable funding, shifting from the property tax to a statewide tax; opportunities for preschool and kindergarten; qualified teachers and administrators; small class size; up-to-date technology, materials and facilities; coordinated community services and a safe learning and teaching environment. After singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ the crowd visited their state representatives.

Three weeks earlier, on April 25, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, led a March For Educational Justice with over 500 education advocates. The march, sponsored by Good Schools PA, went from Wallingford, Pa., to Chester, Pa., and represented great racial, ethnic and economic diversity.

Marchers held up signs with the name of each school district and its per-student expenditure, which ranges from a low of $5,302 to $14,406. Each sign read, ‘All Kids Are Created Equal But Their Schools Are Not.’ As of January 2002, Pennsylvania ranked as the 4th worst state in funding equity, resulting in poor districts like Chester having inadequate schools while wealthy districts have excellent schools.

Giant puppets resembling the gubernatorial candidates joined the march to remind everyone to make equitable school funding a priority issue in the primary election on May 21 and the general election on Nov. 5.

At the rally Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) spoke about the power of the vote in changing Pennsylvania’s policies on education. ‘Get involved. Make democracy work,’ he declared.

Helen Gym, from Asian Americans United in Philadelphia, described how the state takeover and privatization were creating chaos for the city’s schools.

Edelman called on the participants to keep on marching for fair school funding.

Zareefah Storey contributed to this article.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net