As a grade-schooler in Miami, the only other Hispanic in my class had the jealousy-inducing, grandiose name of Evaristo Monteiro (yes, it’s a cognate for Mount Everest). But this year, for the first time ever, white students are not the majority in U.S. public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students, when added together, make up a new majority in K-12 schools. The shift is largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children. Since 93 percent of America’s students—including students with a tradition of faith—are enrolled in public schools, the educational success or failure of these schools directly impacts America’s churches. As our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, we should care deeply that all this year’s kindergarteners, the future class of 2027, will graduate with a solid educational foundation. If we expect the next generation of church leaders to be literate, and biblically literate, then we should unwaveringly support student success in our public schools.
And yet, as this new school year begins, I hear some American evangelicals calling for parents to pull their children out of public schools. I understand our valid, visceral emotions regarding secularism and education in America. And while I honor the right of every parent to prayerfully consider how their children will be educated—we homeschooled all our kids at one point or another—I wonder how many of these fellow believers realize that homeschooling and private schools are simply not an option for many families, including most poor and minority families. Instead of leaving our local public schools, now is the time for Christians to invest more in student success. We have an opportunity to love our neighbors, and their children, in a very practical way. We can pursue biblical justice for all students by advocating for educational equity and high standards regardless of a family’s zip code, ethnicity, or income. A friend of mine started a local tutoring group for elementary students struggling with reading. The principal was thrilled to have the help, and she even approved the Bible as one of our texts—so long as it was just one of a number of choices.
Now is the time for Christians to find practical ways to “seek the good of the city” as never before, and I’m encouraged by those who choose to live as the prophet Micah urged by acting justly and loving mercy. One of the most heartening examples of Christian love in action in our public schools is reflected in the organization Be Undivided. They help churches invest time and effort year-round in students and schools. Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, experienced an enormous turn-around when the members of Southlake Church decided to focus their time and energy on that struggling student body. Their faith in action helped raise morale and expectations for students as a long-term community partnership led to unprecedented student success in Oregon’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood. What Be Undivided and others are realizing is that educational success is rarely directly proportional to cognitive ability, and many students simply need direction and encouragement—God’s transforming kindness—to succeed.
In the same spirit of engaging the culture instead of separating from it, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference empowers member churches to equip and educate parents so that their students can succeed. Our pastors make education a priority in a number of ways, including by dedicating one Sunday per year to focus on student success. This year, our 40,000 member churches will have new resources and programs available for National Hispanic Education Sunday (September 7). There’s a new Parent Toolkit online, a “Report Card Prayer” program to unite faith and education, a “Becas & Bibles” program to encourage churches to give every child a (modest) college scholarship and a Bible at baptism, and a call for Educational Liaisons to assist every church congregation. We are ramping up our efforts because now is the time to ensure the fastest-growing segment of the public school student population, Hispanic students, are poised to dream big and work hard.