It is June, and the PA State legislators are discussing the state budget for the coming year. Budgets are moral documents, in that they reflect the values and priorities of the state in advancing the common good. As people of faith, we are called to share a moral witness to this process, especially as it relates to the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor in our communities, and the children in our schools.
Our Social Principles state, “As a church, we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich. To begin to alleviate poverty, we support such policies as: adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities…” (The Economic Community. Poverty)
The poverty around us, and especially the concentration and segregation of poverty into certain communities, leads to vast inequalities between wealthy and poor districts in our public school system. Federal data indicates that this inequality of funding is greater in Pennsylvania than anywhere else in the United States. Struggling school districts lead to struggling municipalities as poorer districts, in an effort to keep pace competitively, often beggar themselves (and their citizens) by raising property taxes which further stress and impoverish their communities. Poor students and over-stressed communities are not just in the big cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but also in rural areas, small towns and cities across the state, and increasingly in older suburbs facing increased fiscal challenges.
Answering the call to carry God’s word into the world in which we live, we, the undersigned Bishops, urge the members and congregations under our Episcopal care to engage legislators of both parties and express support for budget proposals and principles which support poor students and schools through a fair funding formula, and which provide property tax relief to the most struggling communities in our commonwealth.
Again, our Social Principles state, “The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.” (The Political Community. Political Responsibility)
We hope that our churches will do just that, and we pray for passage of a budget that truly supports and enhances the common good of children, families, and communities across Pennsylvania.
With you in Christ’s witness,
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
Bishop Thomas A. Bickerton
Bishop Jeremiah Park