Rev. George Mason: Race and Education

Rev. George Mason – Remarks at the Angela Project Conference 2017 – Simmons, Kentucky

On behalf of Pastors for Texas Children

George MasonRacism is not the root of all problems of public education in America, but the problem of racism is rooted in public education in America. It should be the mission of the church of Jesus Christ to call it out and root it out.

Public education is under assault in this country. And whom do you think suffers most when it does?

Racism has always prevented black Americans and other people of color from fully grasping the promise of prosperity our country says is dangling just within reach of every child who studies and works hard. Black American children have never had equal access to quality education, and yet they have been blamed for not achieving anyway.

The heroic efforts of people who founded schools like Simmons are to be lauded. The example of successful black Americans who had to work twice as hard as people like me to get where they are today is remarkable. But neither is any excuse for our complacency. Cherry-picking African Americans to praise so we have moral license to condemn many others who haven’t, because of unjust and unequal educational systems we continue to defend, is a sin against God.

You know the history. From slavery to Jim Crow segregation, white Americans have been afraid to be exposed as frauds in our assertion that we have God-given intellectual superiority. We have clung to a lie about ourselves; and it is idolatry, not theology. We have to repent of the contrived notion of whiteness as rightness that has become operational policy in our approach to public school education. It’s not enough for us to feel sorry for our history; it’s necessary for us to atone for it.

Pastors for Texas Children was formed in 2011 as a mission and advocacy organization to ensure that every child of God in Texas have access to a quality public education. We match churches with local schools, creating mentoring and tutoring relationships with students, and providing needed material support to compensate for our state’s failure to fulfill its constitutional duty to fully fund these schools. We advocate for just laws and adequate budgets.

Currently in Texas, and nationwide, we have a privatizing movement underway that wants to peel off taxpayer dollars to private schools through voucher programs. As always, these educational entrepreneurs see themselves as messianic figures, saving disadvantaged students from educrats and bureaucrats who only want to keep their jobs at the expense of the kids. But that argument is bogus.

Voucher programs take our tax dollars and give them to private schools without public accountability. Charter schools do a similar runaround. Vouchers are a ruse designed once again to privilege the privileged and underprivilege the underprivileged.

The people who cry for accountability all the time only want accountability when other people are in charge. And they employ all sorts of negative narratives to support their claims public schools can’t succeed. It’s either corruption of administrators or mismanagement of funds or the breakdown of the black family that makes education impossible. All these arguments are marshalled to undermine public education in favor of moving money and people toward charter schools and private schools.

The performance data, however, don’t back up the claims of failing public schools and thriving charter schools; nor do state experiments in voucher programs justify the upending of a public education system, which was created to strengthen democracy and reinforce our country’s high ideals of patriotism and citizenship. Something else is going on, and we all know what it is. It’s what it’s always been.

After Brown vs. Board of Education, whites fled the public schools for the homogeneity of private schools. When public schools were forcibly integrated, every form of creativity was called upon to maintain white advantage. Black kids and white kids now went to school together, but black teachers—who were invaluable role models in segregated schools—were let go all over the country. Schools were never ordered by the courts to integrate black teachers. Think of it.

Then consider the code language we use in educational reform. Local control, school-based decision making, and here’s the big one—choice. Sounds good in principle, but so did the lofty notion of states’ rights that was used to justify slavery and segregation. The outcome has hardly been different, because when the people in charge locally only answer to people like them, they choose in their own favor time and again, and nothing changes to equalize opportunity.

In Dallas, 95% of our school district is non-white. 90% of students are on partial or full food subsidy. White flight is rooted in white fright. Yet the one thing proven to improve performance in public schools is real racial and economic integration. Know why? Because children haven’t yet learned how not to love their neighbor. They work together and play together and want each other to succeed. It’s their parents and paid-for politicians who don’t know how to do this.

Cornel West was right when he said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” And public education is a fertile field for justice work. It’s one way white Christians can move from private sorrow over our racist history to public repentance. It’s a beautiful way for us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Faith and learning, churches and schools, preachers and teachers: all these are organically related. All of us are called to love God and love our neighbor. This is the perfect intersection to keep the Great Commandment.

Charlie Johnson leads Pastors for Texas Children. It was Suzii Paynter’s brainchild to start with, when she worked for another organization back in our state. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest are working hard to support this work.

Pastors and churches are busy cheering on kids, encouraging teachers and principals and superintendents. We also try to convince politicians of the error of their ways, and when they persist in their perdition, we work to elect new ones who will make good on the promise to all our kids.

You ought to have a chapter in your state too. We can help you. Talk to Suzii or me afterward, or email Charlie.

Here’s the thing: 400 years is long enough, dear Lord! The children of Angela must ever be before our eyes and in our hearts, because they are God’s children and our sisters and brothers. All children’s lives matter only if black children’s lives matter. And one way we can prove we believe that is to make sure the public in the public education system means all the public.

Pray for us, and join us.

4 Ways Your Church Can Minister to Schools

Soon, many Americans will experience one of the biggest events of the year – the first day of school.

Think of the shopping, the preparation, the anticipation: A new school year is significant!

Your church or small group can find many ways to minister to the students, teachers and administrators in your area.

It is always a good idea to contact an administrator to be sure your plans have his or her approval. Then see what God leads you to do for those in the education community and get ready to see him bless.

Here are four approaches your church might consider:

1. Fill some backpacks.

In one Texas town, a group of churches is cooperating in a project to fill 500 backpacks for students in need.

The members of one church are providing 500 scissors, another church is collecting bottles of glue, and others are bringing the remaining items on a set list. Church members will join together at an event to fill the backpacks, which will then be distributed.

You can work with churches near you to do the same kind of project. If the school system allows, include an information sheet about the churches in the area.

2. Adopt a school or classroom.

You may choose to adopt a classroom in which the teacher is a member of your church, or you may intentionally choose a non-member to whom you can reach out.

Ask an administrator, counselor or teacher what the needs are in that school or classroom.

It may be that they need school supplies, a coat for a student or snack foods for students who are hungry during the weekends when free lunches are not available.

You may want to gift a teacher with a box of good scissors, a stapler, electric pencil sharpener, bulletin board border, stickers or other rewards for students and so on.

Teachers spend a surprising amount of their own money on these kinds of things for their classrooms and students. Wrap the box with a nice bow to make it special.

3. Prayer walk at the schools.

I know one church that sent groups of members to different schools in town on Sunday afternoon before the start of school. They walked around the buildings and playing fields, praying for God’s Spirit to prevail in that school.

4. Program publicity.

Throughout the year, schools sell advertisements in their programs for football games, band and choir concerts, and theater productions. Buy an ad for your church with a picture of the building, address and times of church services.

This has the dual benefit of supporting school activities and creating friendly awareness of your church. You never know what may encourage someone to give your church a visit.

Remember that “school” is not something that just happens at the end of August. The school year is almost 10 months long, and the needs of students and teachers continue.

If you and your church are willing to sustain these ministries, the impact in Jesus’ name will be noticed even more.

A school system is a “field ripe unto harvest” (John 4:35).

Children, teens and adults are together in one community. Let’s do what we can to meet their needs and point them to the love of Jesus.

Kathleen Hardage was a teacher for almost 30 years in Texas public schools. She is also a minister’s wife, so she has her feet in both worlds of school and church.

Prayer for educators offered at Longview ISD convocation

August 18, 2017 – by Rev. Evan M. Dolive, M.Div. – First Christian Church, Longview, Texas

You O God are the author and creator of all life, the ruler of the universe, the giver of all blessings, the sustainer of our souls. You are the beginning and the end, the light that shines in the darkness to show us a new path to take, the source of our hope in times of trail, the source of joy in times of jubilation.

As we begin this new school year remind us why we have chosen to be educators, why we have chosen this profession. Remind us of our desire to share knowledge; restore in us the feeling of joy in seeing a child understand a difficult concept for the first time. Remind us of the students whose lives have been changed because time was taken, effort was given and failure was not an option. This school year may we have the excitement and the wonder of a Kindergartener. May we face this new year with all of its challenges with a strong resolve to make Longview ISD a beacon of education in East Texas.

Remove our doubts in our abilities to make a difference, remove our cynicism that comes from empty promises and misplaced priorities, remove our discouragement with burdens that are unnecessarily placed upon us.

Gracious God, the call to educate is a mighty and monumental task.  We know that it cannot be accomplished without your guidance and Spirit moving and working through us.

Restore our courage to act, to stand up for a struggling student and those who are often forgotten. Renew our spirits that we may see the world with a rejuvenated sense of purpose and self.

May our resolve be more than empty promises but an openness to change our minds and hearts. This in turn will allow us to have a more gracious, loving and spirit filled interaction with students, parents, colleagues and administrators.

O God the challenges that lie before us are not Republican or Democratic issues; they are not Lobo, Pirate, Panther, Bobcat or Eagle issues rather they are moral issues that speak to the way that your followers understand you, your teachings, your commands and the call upon their lives.

We know that when we are united together in the bettering of other’s education it will make Longview stronger, it will make Texas stronger, it will make the United States stronger, it will make the world stronger.

May we find courage, hope, strength and guidance to complete the tasks that lay ahead. Grant this for the sake of your righteous name.  Give success to the work of our hands. Amen.

Pastor: Texas Senate doesn’t support public education

By Jimmy Isaac  – Longview News-Journal
Aug. 18, 2017 at 12:26 a.m.

1A politician can’t tell a teacher how much he loves him or her without giving that classroom the money it needs to teach its children, a Fort Worth pastor said Thursday.

Charles Foster Johnson’s words about state senators and and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were just as deliberate.

“We must elect a different Texas Senate in 2018. We must elect a Senate that believes in public education as a foundation of our social and civil order,” Johnson said while speaking with more than 30 parents, school superintendents, trustees, city leaders and teachers at Pine Tree Independent School District.

“The Texas Senate does not believe in public education for all Texas children,” he said. “The Texas House does.”

Johnson is executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a statewide advocacy group. Several East Texans concerned about public education invited Johnson to speak.

“I’m here to listen to a viewpoint that supports teachers and supports public education,” said Pine Tree Superintendent T.J. Farler.

Over just more than a decade, the state’s share of funding education has plummeted from more than 60 percent to below 38 percent, she said.

Pine Tree school trustee Jim Cerrato said teachers are overwhelmed with mandates and other requirements not directly tied to classroom teaching. Coupled with dwindling state aid and salaries that lag other states, Texas is deep into a teacher shortage.

“I wish our state legislators would spend more time talking and listening to people who are actually in the trenches at this level and less time listening to whoever is telling them what they’re supposed to be doing,” Cerrato said, “because this has really not been a very productive session, and I don’t believe they’ve spent any time at all back here with the folks that are trying to fight these battles.”

Farler clarified that state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, spent many hours, visits and phone calls communicating with East Texas superintendents about public education issues, but, “Our Senate side, not a word.”

Patrick and other state legislators have no intention of adequately funding public education as they try to make school vouchers a more appealing option, Johnson said.

He mentioned House Bill 21 among his evidence. The House proposed at least $1.8 billion in additional funding for public schools, but it passed the Senate with only about $563 million — much of it for retired teacher health benefits.

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill.

“The Texas Senate’s original budget was this,” Johnson said, making an “O” with his right hand. “Zero. And ultimately, fast forward to the end of the special session. Basically the Senate said if you’re not going to give us vouchers, we’re not going to give you funding. In other words, we’re going to starve your schools until you cave in and let us privatize them. Let us make money off your children. Let our donors — out-of-state donors — make money off your Longview kids, and the House said no, and that’s the stalemate.”

Johnson said Patrick and Abbott “are wrong.”

“We already have school choice. Parents choose their neighborhood schools, help those schools, wrap their arms of love and care and involvement around those schools,” he said. “The House and Pastors for Texas Children are never, ever going to agree to any plan that diverts that public money to underwrite the private education of affluent kids. We will never agree to that.”

Cerrato said it will take more people outside the political spectrum — including faith-based, community-focused or public education advocates — to bend lawmakers’ ears.

Added Farler, “The fact that somebody is willing to have that conversation with us, other parents and community members is exciting to me.”

Statement from Rev. Charles F. Johnson: End of Special Session

August 15, 2017

As the special legislative session closes, we express our deep gratitude for the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Joe Straus, Chairman Dan Huberty, and the House of Representatives to advance fair and just policy for our 5.5 million schoolchildren.

Because of the intransigence of the Texas Senate toward public education, the House was not able to secure significant additional funding for our neighborhood schools in critical need. But, they did successfully and steadfastly hold the line against private school vouchers – the unjust policy of underwriting private education with public tax dollars.

The failed leadership we presently have in the Texas Senate with regard to our children’s constitutionally protected public education is unacceptable.

This special session has been a circus of stubborn wrangling and procedural manipulation. What we have just been through for the past 30 days is beneath the dignity of every respectable Texan. For our elected officials to treat teachers as threats rather than heroes is an astonishing affront to our civil society.

Teachers are now awake to the concerted attack on their profession and our neighborhood schools. Pastors and community leaders are joining them in defending public education as the foundation of our social order.

Our only recourse now is to focus our efforts in laser fashion toward electing a legislature in 2018 that believes in public education for all Texas children– a legislature our children deserve.

We will get through this strange and difficult season and, by God’s grace, find “the better angels of our nature,” as President Lincoln so memorably put it.

Thank you all for your tremendous advocacy on behalf of our children. We honor you, appreciate you, and hold you, our governor, lieutenant governor and all 181 legislators in our ongoing prayers.

How Gov. Abbott’s voucher plan hurts disabled kids

HOUSTON CHRONICLE – Kristin Tassin – July 17, 2017

As the Texas Legislature gears up for a special session next week, Gov. Abbott made it clear he wants lawmakers to pass vouchers for children with disabilities. The theory is that by providing public funding for a private education, vouchers will provide parents a “choice” in how to best educate their child.

But will parents of children with disabilities really have the choice they want?

The governor, lieutenant governor and others appear to believe that private education is better than public education for these children; thus, the state should divert taxpayer dollars to pay for private education. But is this really what parents want for their children or what children with disabilities want for themselves? Can private entities really provide students with disabilities a better education?

My experience says no, and so does research. As a mother of a 17-year-old with a disability, I have advocated for children with disabilities and their families for more than 14 years. Students with disabilities perform better academically, socially, emotionally and cognitively when educated in classrooms with their typical peers and with appropriate supports. I’ve witnessed firsthand that most students with disabilities and their parents want an education in community schools with neighborhood peers.

Read the entire article here…

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposes millions for teacher bonuses and retirement

TEXAS TRIBUNE – July 13, 2017

With less than a week before the start of a special session of the Texas Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out a proposal Thursday to give teachers bonuses and increase their retirement benefits, with plans to pay for both long-term using money from the Texas lottery.

Patrick called a press conference to roll out his own priorities for the next 30 days and tear down the House’s plan for revamping a faulty school funding system as a “Ponzi scheme.”

Patrick’s plan, in part, would provide $600 to $1,000 bonuses to long-term and retired teachers, inject $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System, give $150 million to struggling small, rural districts, and provide $60 million for new facilities for fast-growth school districts and charter schools.

Over the next two years, Patrick said, $700 million to pay for the plan would come from a deferral of funds to managed care organizations. Over the long-term, $700 million would be directly allocated from the Texas Lottery if voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution to ensure that transfer of funds continues indefinitely.

Currently, about $1.3 billion annually, or 27 percent of lottery funds, goes to public schools. Patrick is currently proposing taking the $700 million from that $1.3 billion rather than reallocating additional lottery revenue.

Read the entire article here….

Texas clergy must support public school education

From Abilene Reporter News – June 17, 2017

For more than two decades, there are those in our Texas Legislature who have sought to undermine our local neighborhood schools.

They continue to falsely say that our schools do not perform well. In fact, the number of perpetually struggling schools in Texas is 1 percent to 2 percent.  Our teachers and administrators are constantly under attack for low performance when this is simply not true.

It is morally wrong to impugn our educators when they are doing amazing jobs with the resources they have. Texas ranks in the bottom third in per capita spending for students.

On the other hand, Texas ranks second only to Iowa among the 50 states in graduation rates, at 88 percent. Unfortunately, one rarely hears or reads about this success and many others.

In 2011, more than $5 billion was removed from Texas education budget. About 60 percent of that has been returned. Many in the Legislature praised themselves for reinstating those funds but 60 percent hardly makes up for those losses.

Six years later, with hundreds of thousands of new students, many of our schools struggle to meet minimum budgets. The Texas Legislature at one time funded more than 50 percent of our local school budgets. That number is now around 38 percent.  Of course this increases the burden for local taxpayers.

There are many who are officed all over the state who want to take money from the public trust and give it to private schools in the form of a voucher. How can it make sense to take money from an already financially strapped system to expand government and create a parallel system?

When a religious school takes money from the government, the force of government regulation will follow. Sadly, some senators actually say aloud that they want to give the money to these schools without accountability.  Are we going to give money to the Baptist, Methodist, Muslim or Catholic schools with no accountability?

That is simply scary. Who decides what schools are “worthy” and which ones are not?

In 1785, John Adams said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one-mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Adams knew that a foundation for a great society is that all children be educated. As one superintendent put it, “We take all children without judgment regardless of who they are, what their demographics are, or their previous academic performance. Not only do we admit them, we keep them. We adopt them as our own and we don’t stop educating them. No matter the circumstances, these educators keep reaching out to support and to educate.”

Texas schools are stronger through our diversity. Educators do not look for opportunities to exclude students, but include. These wonderful teachers embrace and celebrate these differences.

Teachers are not afraid. Their hearts break over the plight of many of these kids and, sadly many spend thousands of dollars out of their own pockets (some, more) to help. Many children struggle financially or battle to learn a new language.  Our teachers do not give up, they only work harder.  Yet, we are told by our leaders that our schools are godless institutions.

Public school educators often are attacked because of the current perception of public schools in our state. When the vast majority of us have attended and flourished through the public school system, it seems absurd that we would need to endure a constant onslaught of criticism.

The climate of trust that has existed for generations is eroding because of decades of abuse and criticism coupled with reductions in support. We hear some state and national leaders define our schools as “failing” and our educators as “deficient.” Those who never have  taught in a classroom or even attended a public school are pushing to privatize and outsource our work.

If Christ has called us to do anything it is to take care of those who are powerless and voiceless.  t’s time for clergy to stand up and be heard on this matter, it is time for church leaders to lend their voice, it is time for all of us to tell those who want to destroy what has worked so well for so long to stop it.

Our 5.4 million children in Texas and their educators need to know we are behind them.

— The Revs. Phil Christopher, Bobby Broyles, Chuck Farina, Kelly Pigott, Charlie Johnson, Cliff Stewart, Stan Allcorn, Don Wilson and Kelvin Kelley, and Dr. Bob Ellis, associate dean for academics for Logsdon Seminary.

Gov. Abbott calls special session on bathrooms, abortion, school finance

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday called a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 18 and promised to make it a sweeping one if lawmakers cooperate.

Abbott gave legislators an ambitious 19-item agenda to work on — including a “bathroom bill” — but only after they approve must-pass legislation that they failed to advance during the regular session. An overtime round, Abbott said, was “entirely avoidable.”

“Because of their inability or refusal to pass a simple law that would prevent the medical profession from shutting down, I’m announcing a special session to complete that unfinished business,” Abbott told reporters. “But if I’m going to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a special session, I intend to make it count.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had been pushing Abbott to call a special session on the bathroom issue, as well as property taxes. Abbott also added the latter item to the call, reiterating his support for legislation that would create automatic rollback elections when a city or county wants to raise property taxes above a certain amount.

Read the entire article here…

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson on Lubbock Radio

z818June 15, 2017

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, the Executive Director for Pastors for Texas Children was recently interviewed by Jay Leeson on the West Texas Drive radio program. Rev. Johnson discussed the work of PTC and the legislature regarding their recent actions on Texas public schools.

Click here to listen to Rev. Johnson talk about the value of public schools!