Ecumenical group presents legislature with issues important for kids' welfare

2/7/2007

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Several measures before the Mississippi Legislature have the support of religious leaders who share a common concern for the education and welfare of children. 

Congregations for Children held a Jan. 25 news conference at the state Capitol to voice its support of a number of bills that impact the state’s children. 

Mississippi continues to be at the bottom of national statistics related to the well-being of children,” said Cassandra Welchlin, legislative liaison for Congregations for Children. “During this legislative session, lawmakers will make decisions concerning children’s basic health, quality of education, affordable childcare and other relevant issues.  

“This is a critical time for children in both houses. Congregations for Children is here to say we will hold lawmakers accountable for doing justice to our children to change these statistics.” 

Congregations for Children is an ecumenical group that advocates for children. It is primarily supported by the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and the Jackson Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray III said faith groups have a role to play in the making of public policy.

“The question is often asked why the faith communities involve themselves in matters like this,” he said. “Freedom of religion provides for us a place at the table for discussion of public policy. Our faith traditions call us primarily to be the voice of the most vulnerable, weak and broken in our midst; to be the place where God’s spirit interacts with the political realm in such a way that policy is defined and laws are made.” 

Gray said the group will not be afraid to enter the debate over public policy or disagree with public officials. 

United Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward addressed the issues on which Congregations for Children will focus. 

“If we want to strengthen the economy in Mississippi we will educate. If we wan to reduce teenage pregnancy, we will educate,” Ward said. “If we want to lessen the number of people who are dependent on the welfare roles, we will educate. If we want to increase the health and well-being of our citizenry, we will educate. If we want to heal broken racial reminders In Mississippi, we will educate. Education is essential for the economy, strength and well being of our state."

To that end, Congregations for Children supports full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, improved teacher salaries, pre-kindergarten programs and a redesign of the state’s high school curriculum. 

“It is essential that schools be structured and strengthened so that every child have access to a strong education and nurturing classroom and all that they need to be strengthened as they grow into adults in Mississippi,” Ward said. 

She called for support of pre-K programs “so that children will not arrive at kindergarten doorsteps having never held a crayon, having never been read to, having not had the experiences which gives them readiness to learn.” 

Bishop Joseph Latino of the Roman Catholic Church said the issues the group supports are issue of justice for children. 

“We thank legislators for their deliberations and encourage them to think seriously of how they can avail the resources of this government to make this state not the last statistically in all those things that deal with what we give in response to children but to lift us above that position that we now hold,” he said. 

Bills supported by Congregations for Children:

  • House Bill 238 – Full funding for Miss. Adequate Education Program
  • House Bill 884 – Statewide pilot pre-kindergarten program
  • House Bill 239 – Teacher pay raises
  • House Bill 1139 – Transfer $34 million to child-care certificates for single mothers
  • House Bill 1088 – Study Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to see how it supports families moving from welfare to work
  • Senate Bill 2345 – Redesign Mississippi high schools 

To learn more about these bills or track their progress through the legislature, click here, and then on “Bill Status” or "Bill Status Text Search."