Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Real Chance to Make a Difference

A Christian school is private, in that it must generate its funding and support from private sources.  It is private in that it is an educational alternative to publicly funded schools.  It is private in that it does represent a choice for parents who decide that's where their children need to be.  It's private in that since its primary means of financing is tuition paid by those who make the choice to send their children, it is also an income decision. 

Practically, it is those things.  Inherently, it is not.  If we genuinely believe in our mission and purpose statements, and in the general Christian philosophy of education that most of our Christian schools have in common, then that puts a Christian school squarely in the middle of the church's assigned function of discipleship.  Instead of a couple of hours a week in a church program, some of which isn't even devoted to discipleship and learning, a Christian school has students under its influence and teaching for more than six hours a day, five days a week.  That much time makes a difference.  It is visible, not only in the disproportionately high number of Christian school graduates in the ministry and on the mission field, but in the fact that, among the younger generation, while more than 80% are leaving church by the time they graduate from college, that figure virtually reverses itself among Christian school graduates and former students. 

Unlike most other private schools, Christian schools generally tend to be self-supporting.  In some cases, schools do receive some church support, or have access to grants and endowments, but for the most part, the funding for a Christian school comes primarily from those parents who consider it the best choice for their children.  We're right up there when it comes to academic achievement, extra curricular activities, and even in educational services, but most of our income depends on the parents who send their children.  Since those same parents also pay taxes to support the public school system, by default, not design, Christian school education is not accessible to most parents who would make that choice if it were possible. 

As part of our advocacy for Christian education, PCS participates with ACSIPA, an organization of Pennsylvania Christian school administrators who meet regularly with state legislators on behalf of the Christian schools that they serve.  Pennsylvania does recognize a parent's right to choose their child's education, and combines that recognition with some financial benefits that are designed to make that choice easier, and not solely based on income.  ACSIPA supports the continued existence of school bus transportation funds and tax credit programs for private schools, among other benefits, which help make schools more accessible to families regardless of their income. 

The EITC/OSTC program is one of those benefits.  EITC stands for Educational Improvement Tax Credit.  Scholarship money is provided from private sources for students to attend private schools, including Christian schools.  In exchange for the contribution, the state provides a tax credit, as much as 90%, return on corporate taxes paid to them.  The money is used to provide scholarships for students whose families qualify by income, equalizing the expense of sending them to a private, Christian school.  The OSTC scholarship is similar, an "opportunity scholarship" for income-qualified families to get their child out of a low-performing public school system and into a school where their child's academic growth can be nurtured, along with their spirit. 

Any business in Pennsylvania which pays corporate tax can apply to be able to receive tax credits for scholarships at private schools.  In addition to the 90% return from DCED, the whole amount is also deductible from federal taxes, so Christian business owners can provide a blessing for Christian schools, and be blessed in return.  The state legislature, as a result of the advocacy of groups like ACSIPA, recently expanded the cap on the scholarship programs, and increased the scope of the kinds of taxes eligible for this program.  That means that up to $75 million is available for scholarships for students attending Christian schools, and up to $50 million is available to students from low performing school districts, including the one in our area. 

If you own a business and would like to understand more about the scholarship program, and the ways your business could benefit from it, please contact PCS at 724-368-8787. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Repentance and Grace in Christian School Discipline

"...Neither do I condemn you...Go, and from now on, do not sin any more."  John 8:11, HCSB

You've probably not ever been involved in a Christian school as a teacher or administrator if you've never had a student cite the example of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 in a disciplinary situation at least once.  And if you had a dollar for every time the concept of grace, or forgiveness, was brought up in a situation where a student was facing consequences for something that they had done, you'd be relatively wealthy. 

The fact of the matter is that Christian principles and practices are a core value in a Christian school, and since grace is one of the primary values of Christian experience, any plan that a school develops for handling disciplinary issues with students will be directly affected by its application, provided, of course, that the application is consistent with the interpretation of both the incident requiring discipline, and grace itself. 

We need discipline in a Christian school because our students, (and our faculty, staff, administration, board members and parents) are sinners, and even though the majority of them have experienced redemption and new life in Christ, they still live in the flesh, are tempted, and they still sin.  It's important to distinguish the difference between actions in a school that are sinful, and require discipline in a spiritual sense, and actions which require discipline as a reminder to students about the rules which establish order, based on the school's way of operating.  Disciplinary action is required for both, but there is a clear distinction. 

One of the major components of grace, and receiving it, is conviction.  Grace cannot be experienced or understood without acknowledgement of guilt.  It's not easy to discern whether a student is remorseful and repentant because they got caught, or because they genuinely know that what they did was wrong.  Conviction requires a clear understanding of what is right or wrong, as it pertains to the action or situation to which discipline is applied, and experience tells me that most students, 7 or 8 out of 10 across the board, do not really have an internal belief that what they've done is really wrong, because they do not accept the premise for the rule that they have broken.  Their perspective is usually relative to their own situation, or to the circumstances of the rule violation. 

For example, students are aware of the school's dress code.  But there are clothing items prohibited by it that they would wear anywhere else, except at school.  So they choose to wear something that is prohibited, and are disciplined for it.  They know they've violated the school rule (especially if they've brought proper clothing with them "just in case") but they don't particularly share a conviction that the rule is right in what it prohibits.  Grace might be given, but it would not be understood in this situation, because the student didn't experience a need for it, other than to just avoid a disciplinary action. 

Repentance is the response to conviction which leads to grace.  Repentance is understanding that what you did was wrong, and you respond by accepting the consequence of your actions.  You are not expecting to be "let off the hook."  Grace occurs when you are.  You might benefit from grace because you've never previously demonstrated the same behavior, or because the individual administering the discipline senses a genuine attitude of repentance and sorrow for what you've done, and decides to be graceful rather than punitive.  It might be that you've previously demonstrated reliable behavior, and grace is given because you're attitude has been witnessed before, and those responsible for discipline discern that you are genuinely repentant, and won't err again.

The most important element of a school's application of discipline is its effectiveness in leading the student to understand exactly what conviction, repentance and grace mean, and how they are experienced.  They need to understand the difference between being sorry for getting caught, or being genuinely sorrowful because they did something that went against the expectation of their Christian faith, and wasn't consistent with their testimony.  And they need to experience genuine sorrow, and personal conviction about their behavior, in order to understand the depths of grace. 

Grace is unconditional.  It is offered equally to all.  Conviction and subsequent repentance is a human being's way of accepting and receiving it.  Whereas love isn't love until it is given away, grace isn't grace until it is received.  It's there, and it's available.  A student's school experience is a great opportunity to come to an understanding of grace and everything that is involved with it.