Monday, August 31, 2015

It's that Time of Year

The school year has started, and so have the appeals for funds from various sources.  Well, there are expenses involved in operating a Christian school, most of them not on the radar screen of most people because, well, we sort of take things for granted because the way public education is funded, most of the costs are hidden from us. 

The magazine sale is now going on, always one of the first, because it provides a solid foundation of funding for athletics.  And at PCS, the athletic program is one of several extra-curricular programs which help us undergird the Christian foundation of the school, because it provides our students with many practical applications for their faith. 

Unlike almost every other aspect of American culture and society, the public education system, and the way that it is financed, is a major obstacle to the principle of school choice.  As Americans, we have all kinds of choices when it comes to businesses, services, medical care, even coffee houses.  We can choose based on quality, value, personal preference, appearance, or just about any other criteria.  In education, we are required to pay for one system, whether we choose to access it or not, and our choice is based on where we live, and where our property is located.  We do not have a choice when it comes to quality, or value of the service provided.  Some of the most costly school systems are also some of the most ineffective when it comes to results.  And when it comes to content, we have even less of a choice, since the curriculum objectives are pre-determined, and are required to be secular in nature, because the system is paid for by tax dollars. 

In Pennsylvania, it takes approximately $12,000 to provide an education for one student for one year in the public education system.  That figure varies from district to district, but that's about as close to average as we can get.  The money comes from taxes at the federal, state, and local level.  Of course, for an individual taxpayer, that amount is spread out over a lifetime, and among the population at large, whether they have school-aged children or not, but if you work out the numbers in averages, over a lifetime, the "average" family of four will pay about three times as much money in taxes as it actually cost their two children to go to school for 13 years apiece. 

It costs approximately $7700 for one child to be provided with a year's education at Portersville Christian School. You pay an average of $6,300 in tuition and fees, and the rest of that money comes from generous individuals and businesses who make contributions to our various funds, fundraising activities, restricted accounts which fund athletics and fine arts, the transportation fund, and other odds and ends.  That sounds like a bargain, right?  And it is, considering the quality of the education you receive here, as well as the inclusion of Biblical truth in the curriculum.  But since it is on top of what you are already paying in taxes, to support the public schools, it is not really a "choice" as much as it is a simple matter of economics and affordability.  So offering a Christian education in America becomes a matter of money, and there's an automatic income limit placed on those who can access it.  On average, about 7 out of 10 families who make up the constituency of potential Christian school families, are unable to exercise their religious choice in education, because their income is not sufficient to provide the tuition and fees necessary to enroll their children in Christian schools.  And we're not talking about just lower income families, either.  Add two children in a private school on to your expenses, and most middle class income families can't make those figures balance for them. 

So, you can see why we put so much time and effort into fundraising.  Yes, it seems like a lot of asking, and it gets tiresome, but when you consider where those funds are being invested, I tend to think that it's worth it.  And when you consider the outcome of a Christian school education, especially here, where students leave mostly focused on their own spiritual development, and equipped to meet the challenges of the next level of education and service, every penny and every minute spent to get it is worth it. 

We have a few things on the table that you can help us with.  Of course. 

The Warrior Legacy Fund:  This is our annual scholarship and technology fund that provides resources which specifically aim at lowering the cost of education at PCS based on income qualifications.  The legacy fund allows individuals to contribute to a scholarship fund that works to close the shortfalls which occur in the EITC and OSTC scholarship funds. 

Don't forget the Fall Vendor Event on September 26th.  This will raise money for the Warrior Fund and will be a great time to do some shopping as well. 

EITC and OSTC:  The two tax credit programs are in the process of a large expansion.  The Senate is now considering a bill which would raise the cap on EITC to $100 million, and on OSTC to $80 million, doubling the size of the current available tax credits.  Businesses who apply for two year contributions receive a 90% tax credit from the state on a wide variety of state taxes.  If you are interested in helping PCS, please contact our development team chairperson, Anna Marie Hernandez, through the school office. 

It's always my hope that our legislators will someday see how much of an advantage it would be for our society to offer school choice across the board, and revitalize our sagging, failing education system with places where students can be encouraged to do their best, and thrive.  Keep praying, and put feet to those prayers.  Go to the ACSIPA website, http://acsipa.org, and click the voter action tab to send a message to the Senate, encouraging them to pass the EITC expansion.  The governor gets your message, too.  The expansion has been proposed because these legislators heard from YOU.  Let them hear from you again. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thoughts on the Verge of a New School Year

"Be self controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  I Peter 5:8

It was a warm, summer day in July, 2010 when I first walked on to the campus of Portersville Christian School.  It was a day of anticipation, after having spoken several times on the phone with the committee that was searching for a new head administrator.  Since then, I've seen God bless this school in many ways.  Many of the students who were seniors that first year have now graduated from college.  The biggest blessing has been in seeing how their commitment to Christ has grown since they graduated.  Some are starting careers, some have become engaged, a few have already married, and their future is being shaped.  Every time one of them tells me how God has blessed them, and how he used their experience at PCS to shape their life, I'm blessed. 

We've also been very blessed as a school community.  Specific goals that were set related to academic progress and curriculum development, spiritual life, student activities and faculty and staff have been met.  Our enrollment increases over the past three years point to a high level of satisfaction with what is provided for students at PCS. Our faculty turnover rate has been extremely low. We celebrated our 50th anniversary, and achieved re-accreditation in the same year.  We've had the privilege of teaching five students who qualified as National Merit Semi-finalists, and one recognized as a Finalist, while many schools never get to teach even one student who earns that recognition.  Our graduates find it relatively easy to get into their first choice college, and many of them are discovering that they can graduate early (or have more freedom to change their major) because of the dual credit we offer.  We have many new students and families ready to join us for the 2015-16 school year.  Three of our graduates are now part of our teaching staff.  The first major construction on the campus, a new 1,000 square foot stage, is nearing completion. 

I see the scripture at the top of the article from I Peter as particularly relevant in a Christian school setting.  Our ministry is discipleship.  We undergird the spiritual foundation of our students while they are engaged in the educational process.  So in addition to teaching the principles of scripture, we also reinforce their truth by integrating them into the core objectives of all other subjects.  Education here doesn't undermine spiritual truth, it supports it.  So can you see why that doesn't sit well with the enemy? 

There are many ways open to the enemy to disrupt the work of training up children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord."  Christian schools can have their ministry harmed and damaged by the same things that cause problems for the church.  Selfishness and gossip are tools that can do a lot of damage in a short period of time, and sometimes, it can be enough to bring a profitable, effective ministry to a halt.  Selfishness, and the pursuit of one's own benefits at the expense of others causes conflict which affects families and students.  Fighting over the school's benefits and resources, creating problems over who gets the best part in the play, or who gets to start in a game, or who gets to be the valedictorian, are all tools that can disrupt the ministry of a Christian school. 

In my thirty plus years of Christian school ministry, I've seen a lot of things cause harm and do the enemy's bidding in rendering a Christian school ministry ineffective.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of watching the demographics of the neighborhood change, and for the school to find itself in the middle of a community in which most of the residents are not financially able to put their children in a private, Christian school anymore.  I've seen bickering and fighting over who gets what, when it comes to benefits or leadership.  I've seen the moral failure of staff members or school leaders slow down and diminish a school's ministry. 

PCS has been through its own share of difficulties and problems, sometimes not within the grasp of its own ability to control, sometimes when it could have been prevented.  We've been fortunate to emerge from dark days and hard times, and that, I believe, is the one, clear sign that God still wants us around.  The school was still weathering the storm in 2010, amid some concern for its future.  I believe its future is in God's hands  And I believe that our school community, on its knees on behalf of this school, is the best protection we have against the schemes of the devil. 

Please take a moment each day, over the course of the next week and a half, to pray for the ministry of Portersville Christian School. 


Sunday, August 2, 2015

On Being "Sons of God": Blessed are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."  Matthew 5:9, ESV

It is always a matter of much prayerful consideration when it comes to choosing a theme verse for the school year.  It requires discerning the spiritual needs of a student body that ranges in age from 5 to 18, and focusing on something that will provide the foundation for the chapel program and worship for nine months.  It's always a pretty sure conclusion that something related to relationships between believers will be very beneficial and complimentary to a school year's worth of other kinds of lessons, in an environment where students spend 6 hours a day with the same people.  But there are also some major themes in the Bible, related to faith, that push the formation of faith to a different level. 

Our role as a Christian school is much more than just teaching Bible and having chapel services added to a week of basic education in skills and concepts.  Look around.  We are living in a time when technology is capable of collapsing on top of us, as rogue nations, in spite of sanctions, inch closer to the knowledge of how to use it to produce a nuclear bomb.  A major institution with a known mission and purpose, also a major abortion provider, has quietly but systematically been making money by selling body parts from the abortions, and the practice, as it turns out, is not illegal.  There's been a very vocal reaction to the revelations, but only from a relatively small segment of the population.  A religious war has been raging across the desert between Syria and Iraq, as an extremist group of Muslims attempts to use the vacuum created by the unraveling of Iraq and a civil war in Syria to establish an old line style Islamic Caliphate, and the brutality reaches us on a weekly basis via the media.  Just this summer, people were shot to death while attending a Wednesday night prayer meeting, or watching a movie in a multi-screen theater. 

Over the course of their life, and particularly during their early years, your children will be confronted with a wide variety of philosophies and worldviews that attempt to answer the questions related to human existence.  In spite of your attempt to protect them, and your effort to guide them, they will be exposed to other religions, to distortions of the Christian faith itself, and to the idea that humans have the intelligence and capacity to resolve their own problems, and that there is either no need for God, or that he doesn't exist.  The earliest exposure they will have to the wisdom of the world will come through their educational experience.  In light of all that has been mentioned in the previous paragraph, isn't it comforting to know that you can send them to school every day knowing that the faith you are trying to help form in them is supported and undergirded by what they are learning at school, and by their teachers? 

The Christian faith isn't just passive acknowledgement of God, and of the salvation from sin that is provided through Jesus.  The presence of a Christian brings with it the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible describes the fallen condition of humanity.  But it also puts forth, in great detail, God's plan for redeeming it, and the center of the plan is focused on people who believe that Jesus is the savior that God sent to accomplish this.  We are not called to judge the world, we are called to make it better by bringing the very presence of God himself into the corner of it that we inhabit.  We are called to make a difference for others by living the life God has instructed us to live. 

It is interesting, in this particular list that we know as "The Beatitudes," that this particular attribute, being a peacemaker, is accomplished with the blessing of being a son of God.  That's a tremendous blessing.  It's a high honor, and isn't that the way you want the creator God of the universe to think about you? 

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes the atmosphere in the dorm room of the large prison camp at Ravensbruck where she and her sister were being held by the Germans during the waning days of World War II.  There were angry screams, scuffles, and fights between the prisoners, being evacuated from camps all over Europe as the Russian and Allied armies closed in.  It was overcrowded, fetid, and the women couldn't even speak to each other because of the language barriers.  Corrie and her sister prayed, that God would bring the peace of his spirit into that room, and change it.  Over the next days and weeks, the change came.  Corrie discovered other women in the same room who were followers of Christ.  Together, they ministered to the desperate needs of hundreds of prisoners.  As prisoners themselves, they were limited in the scope of their resources, but they followed their calling as Christians, and they witnessed the influence of God's peace in that room. 

This verse precedes one that contains two very important principles that Christians must understand in order to be peacemakers.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  No matter what your career, whether you are a plumber or a missionary, you are a bearer of the hope that God has given to us through his Son.  Look at that second paragraph again, and add to it all of the other human failings and crises that have happened, in the past few months, in the past year.  The world needs peacemakers.  And it needs schools like PCS, where students are strengthened in the faith they need to bring hope to a fallen world. 

The summer is coming to a close.  God bless us as we enter another year of training up children in the way they should go.