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! 

A Memorial Day Prayer

Dr. Robert Flynn is a noted author and professor. This prominent Texas Baptist lay leader is a partner with PTC. He prayed this prayer in Memorial Day remembrance for his church, Woodland Baptist in San Antonio:

Holy One who knows and remembers us all, On this day of remembrance

As we remember those who made this beautiful land a nation of freedom and justice for some, let us dedicate ourselves to make it a land of freedom and justice for all.

As we remember our love for our land, for those we lost, may our remembrance bring us closer to love for all in the land, even the least of us.

As we remember our oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, may we recommit ourselves to that oath.

As we remember those who represent us in places of horror and heroism may they remember that they also represent the Prince of Peace.

As we remember our enemies may we remember they also are made in your image and recognize their dedication to their understanding of what you require.

As we remember the innocents who die of perceived necessity, the ruin that endures for generations may we remember that only your love can make all things anew.

As we remember those driven from their homes because of the sins of others, may we be their refuge as they seek refuge in you.

As we remember to vote, to pay our taxes, to salute the flag and pledge allegiance to one nation indivisible may we also remember our duty to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, assist those in prison, even the least of us.

As we remember glory, may we also remember how easily young men and women bleed, how fragile are the bones that bear the burden.

Heal our scars, mend our minds, restore our spirit as we remember what you require of us—to serve justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, not in front clearing our way for you, not behind defending our name for you but beside you as you cleanse our nation of greed, of covetousness, of pride in power, authority and control.

That even in our failure to be like you, we bear witness to your love and your forgiveness.

In the name of the one who loves us all

Amen

House repudiates vouchers, Senate kills school funding bill

The Texas House of Representatives resoundingly repudiated private school vouchers t​his afternoon​ in two additional votes, both by 2/3 margins, adding to the overwhelming defeat of vouchers in general from earlier in the legislative session.

In a surprising procedural move, the Texas Senate last week attached a voucher amendment to HB 21, the much-needed school funding bill providing structural relief for our community and neighborhood schools.

But, thanks to your strong witness and that of countless thousands of others,  House Speaker Joe Straus, House Public Ed Committee Chair Dan Huberty, and other House leaders stood their ground against the Senate leadership’s cynical ploy, and returned HB 21 to a House/Senate conference committee with the instruction that no money whatsoever be diverted to private schools.  At that point, the Senate conceded the defeat of the bill.

It is crystal clear to us, from conducting 400 meetings around the great state of Texas over the past four years of our existence, that Texans love their public schools and do not wish to see them privatized through vouchers.  We have witnessed tremendous community support for public education, led in no small measure by the faithful service of pastors and congregational leaders.  We thank God for this consistent, steady servant leadership.

The work that lies before us will be substantial. We have much solidarity yet to show to our teachers and schoolchildren. And we have a profound moral charge to work in such a way that our elected officials in the legislature of the state of Texas understand that universal education for all children– regardless of race, economics, condition, and background–  is a basic human right before God, and provided by civil society everywhere.

Pastors for Texas Children Statement on Senate Passage of HB 21 With Vouchers Attached

May 22, 2017

In the dead of last night, the Texas Senate, for the second time this legislative session, passed a voucher policy that transfers public tax money to private schools.

Under Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership, House Bill 21 came to the Senate with a structural reform provision for school funding calling for $1.6 billion additional dollars for our schoolchildren.

But due to the legislative bullying of their leadership, the Senate stripped that provision by almost two-thirds—and attached a voucher amendment to the bill that would divert already strapped public education funds to private schools.

The bill now returns to the House of Representatives where that voucher amendment must be removed. The House has already repudiated voucher policy by a more than 2/3 thirds vote earlier this session.

It is simply wrong to underwrite private education with public funds, even if that voucher is for children with special needs.  90% of our Texas schoolchildren are educated through the public school system supported by the public trust.  Private school vouchers provide for the few at the expense of the many.  They are inherently unjust.

When the voucher supports a religious school with public dollars, whether Baptist, Catholic, Muslim or Wiccan, it is a government establishment of a religious cause.  In doing so, vouchers violate God’s principle of religious liberty for all people without interference from any government authority.

It is abundantly clear that the leadership of the Texas State Senate does not believe in public education for all children. For them to persist in saying so is a deception that we take no pleasure in confronting.  Such hypocrisy is morally unacceptable.

Our Texas schools serve 5.3 million children, the majority of whom are poor. To transfer and redistribute wealth away from them to private schools through vouchers is offensive to God and decent people everywhere.  We are grateful for a Texas House with the courage to say no to this corruption of our common good, and we pray for a Texas Senate that is willing to do the same.

Critical Action Alert

Dear PTC Friends,

What we feared all along this legislative session is now happening.

A special-needs voucher provision has been attached to the school funding bill by the Senate Education Committee.

In short, the pro-voucher Senate will not allow any increase in money for our neighborhood and community schools until and unless they get some kind of voucher policy in Texas.

The pro-voucher people are desperate.  Powerful monied interests far outside the state of Texas want to profit off our children. They won’t quit until they tap into this market.

We know how wrong it is to fund the private education of a few with money dedicated to the public education of the many.

We know how unjust it is to corrupt the public trust through a subsidy for private interests.

We know how unwise it is to promote yet another government entitlement and expansion program that intrudes into our private schools.

Most important, we know how unrighteous it is to violate God’s gift of religious liberty by using government money to promote religious causes.

So, as much as our children need the increased funding, we must say NO to the privatization of God’s gift of public education.

Please call your state senator and state representative NOW and urge their opposition to this bill, CSHB21 (Committee Substitute House Bill 21). Attached is all the information you need. You can find their Austin phone numbers here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

Please pray for our Senate and House members. Please spread the word today to other pastoral and lay colleagues.

Do it for our children. ALL our children.

We thank God for you and your witness!

All best,

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

How grassroots groups are mobilizing Texans on top issues

TEXAS TRIBUNE – April 26, 2017 – Alex Samuels

(The following article features Pastors for Texas Children)

This legislative session, we’ve been examining the various ways Texans can participate in the political process, from contacting lawmakers to testifying before the state House and Senate. This week, we’re talking to several Texans who represent, or are a part of, community groups seeking to influence policy by engaging with like-minded individuals.

These groups are a staple of the session, driving demonstrations on the Capitol steps, but also organizing across the state long after the Legislature adjourns. 

Read on for tips from organizers on how they work to elevate grassroots voices at the Capitol — then tell us about the groups you’re involved in by filling out this short form. These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

This post is part of of our Come and Take it Challenge, which encourages readers to learn more about how Texas government works. You can participate by messaging “hello” to Paige, our Facebook Messenger bot, at m.me/texastribune. She’ll send you twice-weekly updates on news out of the Texas Legislature, plus details on completing the challenge. Participants are eligible to win tickets to the Texas Tribune Festival in September; see full details here.

Read the entire article here…

Texas House rejects vouchers

“The Texas House of Representatives voted today 103 to 44  to prohibit budget money for private school vouchers.

“We are deeply grateful for the leadership of Speaker Straus and the  overwhelming majority of Texas House  members who realize that Texans love and support their neighborhood and community public schools – and do not want to see them privatized through school vouchers.
“As we have consistently said over the three years of our existence, it is morally wrong for government money  and meddling to be inserted into the voluntary assemblies of our fine church schools.
“We humbly remind our elected officials that universal education is a fundamental human right for all children, mandated by the Texas constitution and clearly taught by people of faith everywhere.
“We pray that the Texas Legislature will cease their dabbling into this violation of God’s gift of religious liberty for all people, and will begin focusing on the real needs of our 5.3 million Texas public schoolchildren.”

Texas lawmakers are letting teachers down

12Texas public school teachers are heroes. They work hard for low pay, and with massive legislative budget cuts, spend significant personal dollars on their students’ school supplies. Teachers are the front line of care for Texas children. If a child has a learning issue or a problem in the home, teachers are the first to see and intercede at the risk of being blamed for it.

On top of this, our Legislature loves to blame teachers for the mess lawmakers have created by underfunding public schools.

Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) are weary of legislators attacking teachers. Rather than adequately funding struggling schools (a small number of the state’s 8,500 public schools are struggling), state leaders fault teachers and propose schemes to privatize education that would enrich a few at the expense of many by draining even more funds from public schools.

The Texas courts have repeatedly given the Texas Legislature an “F” for their inadequate support for Texas public schools. The Legislature has responded by creating a system to grade schools without reference to their own poor performance in providing resources for those schools.

The latest legislative attack on teachers is Senate Bill 13, which removes teachers’ rights to have voluntary association dues automatically deducted from their paycheck. Teachers have enjoyed this right for more than 20 years at almost no cost to the state. Many Texans enjoy this right at work, including many Texas public employees. Our legislators enjoy this right. SB 13 would allow law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS workers to continue this right. SB 13 mainly targets teachers. Why make teacher’s lives harder by effectively weakening voluntary organizations that support them?

The four teacher associations receiving these dues offer teachers a variety of important support services, one of which is representation in legislative actions affecting Texas teachers and children. In their repeated failed attempts to pass voucher schemes, some legislators have refused to hear that many Texans simply don’t want private education paid from public funds. Many groups have opposed their efforts as damaging to Texas children overall, including the teacher associations. But of all these opponents, these legislators are blaming the teachers and attacking them through SB 13.

PTC has over 2,000 members, urban and rural clergy joined in supporting a strong system of public education for all Texas children, and the excellent professionals who make that system effective. We support the minor convenience of an automatic payroll deduction for these professionals to join an association that meets their needs and representing their interests.

Furthermore, we note the discriminatory exemption of male-dominated state worker groups in SB 13 — firefighters and law enforcement — and the attack on female-dominated public services such as public educators. We thank God for all our public servants in the helping professions of Texas. Why would our legislative leaders want to pit one against another in this petty way?

We also recognize the deeper negative effect of this bill on teachers in rural areas who may have greater difficulty securing support services if their teacher association is weakened.

We hear the arguments in favor of SB 13 as a disingenuous cover for an anti-democratic attempt to punish and weaken teachers for opposing the greedy movement to privatize and profiteer public education in Texas to the detriment of Texas children. We see SB 13 as an attack on teachers’ voices through their associations.

Legislators, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Focus instead on supporting Texas public school teachers and our marvelous neighborhood and community public schools! Maybe this session, you can get earn a better grade in supporting the children of Texas by supporting a strong system of public education and the teachers who make it work.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin

The Rev. Dr. Tim Bruster, Senior Minister, First United Methodist Church, Fort Worth

The Rev. Kyle Childress, Senior Pastor, Austin Heights Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

The Rev. John Elford, Senior Pastor, University United Methodist Church, Austin

The Rev. Dr. Charles Kutz-Marks, University Christian Church, Austin

The Rev. Dr. George Mason, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas

The Rev. Ryon Price, Senior Pastor, Second Baptist Church of Lubbock

The Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker, Senior Minister, First United Methodist Church, Dallas

The Rev. Tom VandeStadt, Congregational Church of Austin, UCC, Austin

The Rev. Dr. Steve Wells, Senior Pastor, South Main Baptist Church, Houston

The Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston