With Milwaukee public schools facing attendance and drop-out problems, there’s renewed interest in permitting local pastors and churches to organize Bible studies, prayer groups and faith clubs.

Some 70 percent of the high school students in the district are categorized as “chronically truant,” so officials are eagerly listening to proposals from the churches, which organized a rally yesterday.

“This rally is based on youth and on getting prayer back in the public school system, because what’s shaping our youth is that they are doing things that are ungodly,” said the Rev. George Nathaniel, pastor of Compassion Ministries International.

Partly an outgrowth of their own missions, their strategy also represents the faith community’s response to state school Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster’s broad Alliance for Attendance initiative to increase school attendance.

Chased out of public schools by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1962, faith-based prayer groups were allowed back in by a 2001 Supreme Court decision that is reflected in the U.S. Department of Education guidelines.

This school year, various faith-based groups ran Bible study clubs in some 40 schools, prayer groups in at least five schools, and tutoring in at least 32 schools in the greater Milwaukee area, but the vast majority of those were in the suburbs.

Because of that, a coalition of faith-based organizations – including Citizen Action of Milwaukee, MICAH (Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope), BASICS and the City of God Network — is making a push this summer to get Milwaukee pastors and churches to adopt a school in their neighborhood and get involved.

BASICS, an umbrella organization that works with about 200 churches and about 100 different outreach ministries, piggy-backed that effort onto a breakfast it hosted this week for 150 area pastors and ministry leaders. Most were from Milwaukee.

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