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Presbyterians reject idea that government spends too much on public schools

October 18, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Fewer than one-quarter of Presbyterians believe the government is spending too much money on public schools in their community, and only two in five support the idea of government providing financial aid to parents of children who are attending private schools.

These findings are from the November 2009 Presbyterian Panel survey on education and other topics.

Only one in five Presbyterian church members (16 percent) and elders (21 percent) and about one in ten pastors (11 percent) and non-parish ministers (7 percent) "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" that too much U.S., state, and local government money is spent on public schools in their community.  At least seven in ten in each group "strongly disagree" or "somewhat disagree."

About two in five members (40 percent), elders (40 percent), pastors (39 percent), and non-parish ministers (36 percent) "strongly favor" or "somewhat favor" local or state governments providing tax credits or other financial aid to help parents pay tuition for their children in private schools.  Majorities in each group "strongly oppose" or "somewhat oppose" such financial assistance.

Presbyterians communicate their support for public schools in other ways as well.

More than four in five members (83 percent), elders (84 percent), pastors (83 percent), and non-parish ministers (87 percent) "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" that supporting the right of every child to have access to an affordable and high-quality public education should be a strong Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) priority.

"Presbyterians support public schools," said Presbyterian Panel Administrator Perry Chang. "They want both the government and the church to support schools, too."

This support is evident in Presbyterians' favorable opinions of public schools in their community and in their personal connections with public schools.

Three-quarters of members, elders, and pastors, and two-thirds of non-parish ministers, are "completely satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the quality of education in public schools in their community.

Almost all members, elders, pastors, and other ministers (all 95 percent or more) attend or attended a public school. 

Children from at least four in five households of Presbyterian panelists with school-age children attend public schools.  Those include schools to which the public school district has assigned the children, magnet schools, and charter schools.

One-third of pastors report that their congregation works directly with a particular public school to provide volunteers or other resources to enhance the educational experience for students there.  Congregations also aid children’s learning in other ways.  Half run or host scouting programs such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, two in five run or host a preschool, and one in five run or host an after-school program or a mentoring or tutoring program for students.

Only 5 percent of pastors' congregations run or host a private school with some or all of kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Presbyterian support of public education is not abstract," Chang said.  "Presbyterians and their kids have gone to public schools, and many Presbyterian churches work with public schools and with children in their community." Presbyterians trace their support for public education back 500 years to John Calvin, who introduced the concept in Geneva so that all of its citizens could read the Scriptures. 

This past July the PC(USA) General Assembly, meeting in Minneapolis, reaffirmed the denomination's commitment to K-12 public schools and approved a paper on public education drafted by the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education, K-12).

Every three years the PC(USA) Research Services staff assembles representative samples of Presbyterian church members, elders, and ministers who respond to questions on different topics quarterly.  Known as the Presbyterian Panel, these randomly chosen respondents provide a vital means for church leaders to learn the opinions of rank-and-file Presbyterians.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, visit the Research Services website or contact Research Services toll-free at (888) 728-7228, ext. 2040, or by email.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises more than 2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.  See more information at the PC(USA) website.

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