When my ministry began in Milwaukee our Christian day school was just embarking on a new chapter in our educational adventure. Seven years before my arrival on the scene the state of Wisconsin passed the school choice bill. School choice was: “Pioneering educational freedom: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created in 1990 to provide educational freedom and choice to low-income parents in Milwaukee who did not have the financial means to send their children to private schools. Grassroots growth: as the first school choice program in the nation, Milwaukee is a pioneer in educational reform. Beginning with seven schools and 300 students, the program reached its 15,000-student enrollment cap in 2005. Bipartisan legislation begun with a grassroots effort increased the enrollment cap to 22,500 and introduced standardized testing and accreditation requirements for schools.”
Sounds like a great program, right? Who would not want equal educational opportunities to all families? School choice was not without its detractors and even its abusers. However, the greatest threat to our church was the attitude of the families whose kids attended the school before. These were not bad people nor unchristian people. The concern became one of safety. All of a sudden, we were adding a foreign element into our once small, contained, safe school environment. Our Lutheran trained teachers were not used to the kind of developmental issues we were suddenly facing, nor the discipline issues. One by one we lost more and more tuition-paying customers replacing them with school voucher students. We got all kinds of reasons for why they were pulling their kids out but, in the end, the culture and environment changed. It was no longer as safe.
The importance of a safe environment.
I covered this issue in a previous post but want to revisit the safety issue. It is the number one issue for parents. For those current parents and for future prospective ones as well.
The Barna research says,” A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and perspective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.”
With our new students, we struggled to regain our footing when it came to safety for our current parents. For the prospective parents, our school was a huge upgrade over their previous public school situation. But that issue of safety was one we continued to work on improving.
The Mission is coming to our Front door.
In August of 2017 Illinois made history with the passage of a Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program. This law which passed with both houses of the legislature under Democratic control has enacted an educational choice program. The law has the highest scholarship funding cap ($100 million) of any first-time TCS program.
Empower Illinois is based on a simple notion: every child has just one chance to get a great K-12 education; there are no do-overs. We seek to empower community members to assist parents to choose the best school for their child.
We support access to great public and private schools and educational opportunities. 
The question is how do we make use of the opportunity God has placed at the front doors of our churches engaged in Christian day school ministry? One thing we need to do is overcome our fears. Our fears can lead us to miss the opportunity to see these families as a threat to our need for safety vs seeing them as families who share a common goal, they too want to give their children every opportunity to grow and develop in a safe and loving environment. Our schools offer that kind of safe, loving, and nurturing environment that after all is why we chose them. Imagine seeing this as a mission opportunity to reach people and families that normally could never afford to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build. You have the opportunity to be salt and light those in need of grace and love.
This is our calling!
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).
A bit of context here. What does the phrase “least of these” mean? It is often mistranslated. It does not mean that these poor souls are of less value than others. Jesus is not promoting some hierarchy of worth as far as human values are concerned. He does not lift the wealthy and self-sufficient to the top, while the poor or the materially and financially dependent are at the bottom of the totem pole.
The phrase “least of these” is better translated as “however humble” (New English Bible). The least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus are those persons who are vulnerable. They are the socially, psychologically, or economically disadvantaged, such as the sick, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus cares about the needs of the poor. As God brings the poor, the parents in need to our doors, Jesus says, “Whatever you do the humble among you, do you it for me.” How you will make use of the opportunities God is placing at the doorsteps of your school?
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