Interfaith Conference on Public Education

The National Council of Churches met with the National Educational Association in an unprecedented interfaith conference to improve public education through the efforts of religious bodies. Nearly 70 faith leaders representing Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Hah’ai communities and educational leaders from the National PTA, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National School Boards Association gathered for the Jan. 14 summit.

“Educating every child in America to the fullest extent of his or her potential is as much a moral imperative as it is a civic duty. We are on a mission to great public schools for every child, and I can think of no better way to achieve this goal than to partner with the community and this includes working with institutions of faith,” said Reg Weaver, president of the NEA.

“I believe in the separation of church and state, but not in the separation of people of faith from institutions of government,” Edgar said. “If we seek, I know we will find productive and legal ways for people of faith to support public schools, and given that public schools are our nation’s largest civic institution, we must work together,” said Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC.

The group unanimously agreed that one of the greatest challenges for public education is to close the achievement gap between children of poor urban schools and those of rich suburban schools. Following their concerns, the group decided to advocate for legislation to eliminate the enormous funding gap between these schools.

Other ideas for improvement included a church-lead promotion for higher scholastic achievement. Delegates suggested churches promote public education in their services by congratulating honor roll students and school teachers, by encouraging their congregations to consider teaching as a profession, by supporting mentoring programs and offering donations of books, school supplies and clothing for students in need

Leaders from both the religious and education communities said they plan to share their ideas in their respective spheres of influence. The group also discussed the possibility of a subsequent meeting this year.

The NCC USA represents 36 member denominations with 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations. The NEA is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 2.7 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.