COLUMBIA — Five South Carolina bishops from four Christian faiths are urging reform of the state’s public education system to help improve the future of children they say are stuck in poverty and hopelessness.
The bishops aim to persuade their congregations and state legislators to fix an education system struggling with crumbling buildings, inadequate funding, and low expectations, The State newspaper of Columbia reported Sunday.
“How can the next generation rise to the challenge of this day and age when they are not given the superior education they deserve?” the bishops wrote in the letter. “Even in the most successful of school districts, too many students underachieve, or worse, fall through the cracks and do not achieve success. All too easily they can become caught in the grip of poverty.”
The letter is signed by Lutheran Bishop Herman Yoos, Episcopal Bishops W. Andrew Waldo and Charles Glenn vonRosenberg, Catholic Bishop Robert Guglielmone, and United Methodist Bishop L. Jonathan Holston. Together, they lead about 450,000 parishioners.
Yoos said he and his fellow bishops are raising the issue while the state Supreme Court is poised to rule in a lawsuit over what constitutes a “minimally adequate” education as defined by the state’s constitution.
“I would say that there seems to be a stirring up of God’s spirit to be part of this advocacy of children,” said Yoos, who represents 53,000 Lutherans in 155 congregations.
Their biblical mandate figures prominently in the bishops’ action, said vonRosenberg, who represents 6,000 Episcopalians in 30 Lowcountry congregations and taught in the public schools before entering seminary.
The bishops are asking every congregation they oversee to engage in some sort of outreach to schools. United Methodists led by Holston already are organizing a drive to provide one million books to preschool and elementary school children.
The bishops are holding off meeting with legislators. The faith leaders expect discussions with lawmakers in the future about school funding, including a decision to remove property taxes from funding formulas that has been criticized for increasing disparities among localities.
“We don’t want to do much with the Legislature at this point, because we don’t want to make this a political issue,” said Guglielmone, the Catholic bishop who represents about 200,000 Roman Catholics in 199 congregations. “We don’t want it to be reduced to that. We want to raise the issue after the elections, because no matter who is in office, everyone is going to have to focus on this.”
Guglielmone oversees a network of Catholic schools and is a champion of faith-based education. But the majority of children in the state, including Roman Catholics, are educated in the public schools, and some of those schools are not living up to their responsibilities, he said. The diocese has several orders of Roman Catholic sisters working in rural areas including Kingstree, St. Helena Island and Georgetown who find themselves spending extensive time in after-school tutoring.
“When you get into some of the poor counties in this state, oh my goodness,” Guglielmone said.