Thursday, April 23, 2015

Celebrating School Choice in Pennsylvania: May 6 in Harrisburg

School choice in Pennsylvania has taken the form of tax credit programs over the past decade or so since the legislator recognized the need to provide some sort of support for parents who are taxpayers, and prefer to have their children educated in an environment, and with a curriculum that supports and undergirds the Christian values that the Bible's writers instruct them to teach.  Tax credits avoid some of the constitutional issues of "separation of church and state" that arise in voucher programs, and in Pennsylvania, EITC and OSTC scholarship programs also have bi-partisan political support. 

When I first joined the ACSIPA committee charged with the responsibility of keeping school choice issues in front of state legislators about two years ago, our visits to Harrisburg mainly involved meeting with second and third tier legislative aides to representatives and Senators, and there was very little, very slow progress.  That has changed, and there are several reasons for it:
  • Attendance at the EITC Birthday rallies in Harrisburg, sponsored by the REACH foundation, has increased, and the legislators have noticed not only the issue of school choice, but the support that exists for it.
  • The ACSIPA committee has a website, http://acsipa.org, and the website now has a voter voice feature.  During last year's debate on the EITC reform bill, legislators received over 1,500 emails from school choice supporters.  Hence, a bill that we were told a year earlier could never get through an election-year session passed with room to spare. 
  • The ACSIPA committee, of which I am a member, has a regular presence in Harrisburg, and we are now discovering that legislators want to meet directly with us, rather than send an aide in their place.
The result of this increased presence has been that the legislature in Pennsylvania is considering a major expansion of the EITC/OSTC programs, in terms of doubling the amount of tax credit that is available for business donors, and adding more categories of taxes which are eligible for the credits.  The potential benefit to parents, and to PCS, is tremendous.  It will require us working to convince businesses that supporting the high quality, distinctively Christian education our students receive is worth their financial involvement.  And in the meantime, it will require us providing our legislators with the motivation and incentive they need to support this legislation. 

On May 6, a group of PCS students will ride over to Harrisburg to participate in the EITC Birthday Party celebration on the western steps of the Capitol building.  Legislators will notice their presence there.  Last year, all of the Senators and representatives who are from areas covered by PCS families made a point to invite our students into their office, and meet with them personally.  There is a photo in our trophy case of our students with Representative Jarrett Gibbons, of Ellwood City, and Senator Hutchinson, of Franklin.  Both are school choice supporters. 

Parents are welcome to ride the bus.  We can take two busses if we need the room.   

Friday, April 3, 2015

Taciturn: The Opposite of Gossip

 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  James 1:26, NIV


Taciturn                        
adjective tac·i·turn \ˈta-sə-ˌtərn\
1. tending to be quiet : not speaking frequently, 2.  temperamentally disinclined to talk.
From the Latin taciturnus, meaning quiet and reserved, implying wisdom and a sense of personal judgment before speaking.

I can't really remember the first time I heard the word taciturn.  It was probably one of those SAT vocabulary words, or maybe it was used by an author in a book I was reading.  A taciturn person is a quiet person, but there's a bit more to the concept than just not speaking.  It is the idea of exercising judgment prior to speaking.  It doesn't necessarily describe a person of few words, but it does describe a person who listens, and thinks, before he, or she, talks.  And though the word is not specifically mentioned by James in the verse I quoted, he defines the worth of a person's religion by the taciturn nature of the person practicing it. 

In a Christian school context, it is always difficult to know how, and when to address an issue when it arises, especially one that can have an impact on the school's ministry, mission and purpose, and on individual families involved.  More than any other threat we face, gossip can have a negative impact almost immediately.  I started my work in Christian education in 1983, and I have witnessed more examples of the damage that gossip can do over that thirty-two year period of time than I care to know about.  It is unfortunate that in a community of people who claim to be Christ-followers, as well as Bible-believers, gossip prevails in such a way as to call the commitment to the religion we practice into question, and allow its worth to be compromised. 

Gossip is a symptom of selfishness.  It happens when someone doesn't get their way.  Think about it.  If you come up with another reason why it occurs, I'd be glad to hear it, but frankly, the pronoun that is at the bottom of the issue is "me."  The intention of the gossip is to manipulate the circumstances in order to produce the desired outcome by gathering support for their cause through misinformation, or attempting to gain sympathy in order to increase pressure to sway a decision that will be made. 

 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:3-12, NIV

There's a reason James uses such strong language to deal with the words that we speak.  The value of the religion we practice depends on what comes out of the spiritual well that lies within, and he makes it very clear, with his analogy that a salt spring cannot produce fresh water, that a spiritual spring controlled by the Holy Spirit cannot produce "restless evil, full of deadly poison."  As followers of Christ, most of us can point to the visible progress we make as we grow in our Christian discipleship, but I suspect that for most of us, our speech is the place where we need the most grace.

With instant communication, social media sites, texting, and everyone with a phone, communication has become anonymous, and being taciturn has gone by the wayside.  It's easy to be bold, and easier to spread gossip, when you're touching keys on a keyboard, and not directly facing someone.  And for some reason, in a Christian school community, we've lost the concept of being "taciturn." 

Our school is a professional organization, made up of professional employees, and it operates on distinctively Christian principles, along with a set of policies designed to support its Christian foundation, and to provide a level playing field to evaluate the work that we do.  And in being distinctively Christian, the concept of grace is always part of everything we do.  Sometimes that means that policy has to be interpreted, or that a decision must be made to be able to move forward in a situation, and that decision always involves, prayer, careful consideration of the circumstances, and ultimately considers what will best benefit the student who is involved in a way that glorifies God and is obedient to his word.  That's harder than it seems.  It becomes even more difficult when the surrounding conversation isn't uplifting. 

Be discerning when you are listening, and that will be a big blessing to us.  If you are talking about the school, its administrator, board members, committee members, faculty, staff, or volunteers, and the person or people you are talking about are not involved, it is time to become more taciturn.  If you want facts, just ask.  We will be glad to tell you what you need to know.