CommonCall: San Marcos Church Blessing Backpacks

Young Volunteers Seek Sponsors to Fill Backpacks with School Supplies

Young Volunteers Seek Sponsors to Fill Backpacks with School Supplies

By Ken Camp May 18, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

SAN MARCOS—First Baptist Church in San Marcos wants to bless local students and teachers—in every way possible.

Melinda Hall, minister to preschool and children at First Baptist, saw an idea on social media a couple of years ago she wanted to bring to her congregation.

Another children’s minister had suggested blessing backpacks of students and teachers immediately prior to the beginning of the school year.

Prayers for students and teachers

Backpacks Filled and Delivered

Backpacks Filled with School Supplies

First Baptist produced laminated tags for the backpacks—one for students and the other for educators. One side of each tag includes affirmation the backpack “has been blessed by a congregation that loves and supports” students and teachers. A prayer is printed on the reverse side.

The prayer for students says: “Dear Lord, open my eyes to see new friends. Open my ears to hear my teachers. Open my mind to learn new things. Open my heart to love others like you do. I want to shine your light in my school. Amen.”

The prayer for educators says: “Dear Lord, enable me to teach with wisdom, for I help shape the mind. Equip me to teach with truth, for I help shape the conscience. Encourage me to teach with vision, for I help shape the future. Empower me to teach with love, for I help shape the world. Amen.”

The blessing of the backpacks proved so popular, teachers who had no other contact with the congregation began to ask to be included.

Fill backpacks with school supplies

This year, First Baptist also blessed students in need at two low-income schools in San Marcos with the gift of backpacks and school supplies.

Hall initially contacted the principal at Travis Elementary, a predominantly Hispanic school where eight out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced lunches based on family income. The principal agreed to identify students who would benefit from backpacks filled with a dozen of the most essential school supplies.

By purchasing 48 backpacks wholesale and buying the school supplies on sale at a discount store, Hall was able to keep the cost per filled backpack under $15.

She set up a table at First Baptist promoting the program and asked members to sponsor a student by purchasing a backpack volunteers would fill with supplies. Members immediately snapped up sponsorships and asked if they could help additional students.

Backpacks sponsored, stuffed and delivered

Hall purchased an additional 24 backpacks, which sold quickly. So, she purchased 24 more backpacks, and members also sponsored them.

“Our people are good about giving,” she said.

She contacted the principal at Mendez Elementary, where 84 percent of the students are Hispanic and 86 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. The principal eagerly agreed to identify students who would benefit from the backpacks.

Volunteers Deliver Backpacks

Volunteers Deliver Backpacks

Volunteers stuffed the backpacks during an intergenerational missions emphasis weekend at First Baptist Church.

“We delivered 50 backpacks to Travis and 46 to Mendez Elementary on the rainiest day in August,” Hall recalled, noting she had received thank you notes from both schools.

Before the students received the backpacks, members of First Baptist Church joined in praying for those students.

“This year, we not only blessed our own kids’ backpacks, but also all the ones we sponsored,” Hall said. “Our people really got behind it.”

CommonCall: School Fuel Provides ‘Hope in a Paper Bag’

By Ken Camp May 18, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

SAN MARCOS—Every week, students at six San Marcos elementary schools look forward to Friday—and not just because it signals the start of the weekend. That’s the day the children receive a paper sack filled with food, made possible by an organization First Baptist Church birthed.

Each Thursday, volunteers with School Fuel San Marcos fill 671 sacks with enough food for two full meals a day for the weekend, plus snacks. Every Friday morning, parent liaisons at the elementary schools place those sacks in the backpacks of children who rely on the free breakfast and lunch programs at school on weekdays.

‘Important for these kids to know someone cares’

“We serve 115 children every Friday at our school, and they are usually all there that day,” said Connie Perez, parent liaison at Travis Elementary School in San Marcos. “They have figured out they have to be there to receive the food.”

Kathy Hansen Fills Sacks with Food for Children

Kathy Hansen Fills Sacks with Food for Children

Kathy Hansen, a member of the San Marcos school board, was among the volunteers who helped pack the paper sacks for School Fuel recently.

“It’s unbelievable how important it is for these kids to know somebody cares,” she said.

From her 30 years experience as a classroom teacher, she knows what happens when students lack access to healthy food.

“They have headaches. They are angry and irritable. They want to sleep,” she said. “Food is a basic need. If we can help meet that need, we are equipping them to excel.”

A church with a strong missional mindset

School Fuel already was a thriving program when Chad Chaddick arrived at First Baptist Church as pastor three years ago.

“I inherited a church with a strong missional mindset,” Chaddick said. “Our folks see this as a natural extension of the church loving its neighbors. It’s a way to fulfill our call to feed the hungry. It’s an opportunity to give hope in a paper bag.”

Six years ago, Chaddick’s predecessor—Pastor Mark Newton—led a Wednesday evening missions class in which he challenged members to consider ways they could make a positive impact on lives in their community.

As the participants began to research community needs and potential ministries, they discovered more than seven out of 10 students in the San Marcos school district qualified for free or reduced lunches due to family income. They also learned many of those students lacked access to food most weekends.

Proven success

In spring 2013, First Baptist Church launched a three-month pilot ministry with a select group at Mendez Elementary School, where 86 percent of students participate in the free or reduced school lunch program.

The church provided food-filled sacks to 31 students each Friday, and then they evaluated the results. Among 30 of the 31 students, teachers reported improvement in their attitude, grades and attendance, and Monday visits to the school nurse became virtually nonexistent.

Encouraged by the results, representatives from the church met with community and school leaders during the summer break, raising money and enlisting volunteers to launch School Fuel at the beginning of the next school year.

During its first year as a ministry of First Baptist Church, School Fuel served 260 students at two schools—Mendez Elementary and De Zavala Elementary.

Open doors

School Fuel’s leaders soon realized the program could be more effective as a nonprofit organization distinct from First Baptist Church. As an independent nonprofit, School Fuel could apply for grants and receive donations from businesses that would not contribute to the ministry of a single church.

Jenny Mangrum Provides Instructions to Volunteers

Jenny Mangrum Provides Instructions to Volunteers

“That opened a lot of doors for us,” said Jenny Mangrum, a member of First Baptist Church and director of School Fuel.

Even so, everyone involved remains aware of the motivation behind the program.

“We pray before we pack every week, and the volunteers know that,” Mangrum said. “God has blessed, and we have grown every single year since we started.”

Still, Mangrum sees the need for expansion. She cannot bear the idea that some of this year’s students will lack food next year when they leave elementary school.

“We’ve got to get into the middle schools,” she said.

Broad base of community support

From September to December last year, School Fuel attracted 647 volunteers and support from 47 groups, including businesses, a local hospital, university fraternities and sororities, at least a half-dozen churches, service organizations, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts.


It costs $215 to feed one child every weekend for one school year, said Nancy Smith, a member of First Baptist Church and treasurer for School Fuel.

Smith, who retired after more than three decades in public education, understands the importance of providing students with the food they need to grow and remain alert and attentive.

“The teachers are excited,” she said. “They say, ‘I don’t have to keep protein bars and peanut butter crackers in my desk any more for students who come to school hungry on Monday morning.’”

Likewise, School Fuel receives positive reports from parent liaisons who interact with students at each of the schools they serve.

“The children think it’s Christmas every Friday,” Smith said.

‘God always provides’

Smith’s husband, Larkin, handles logistics for School Fuel and continues to look for ways to improve efficiency. Originally, the group had to enlist drivers with trucks, vans and sports utility vehicles to deliver the food-filled sacks to schools each Friday morning. Now a moving company—Ace Relocation—pays its drivers to transport the food every week.

Larkin Smith Stocks the Pantry at School Fuel

Larkin Smith Stocks the Pantry at School Fuel

Smith helps his wife receive many of the in-kind donations local residents bring to School Fuel. Because items distributed to the schoolchildren must be uniform size, not every family-sized jar or can finds its way into a student’s sack. But nothing goes to waste.

“We all know where it’s coming from,” he said, pointing heavenward. “Those unusual donations go to meet unexpected needs that arise. We don’t know what the needs are yet, but God does. God always provides.”

School Fuel has received financial support from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering, and an annual fund-raising banquet and silent auction for the program is held at First Baptist Church.

‘Seek the common good’

The fund-raiser originally filled the church’s atrium. When it outgrew that space two years ago, it moved into the sanctuary—and it may have to find a larger venue next year.

“It has grown exponentially in the last couple of years,” Chaddick said.

Recently, children at First Baptist Church in San Marcos participated in their own fund-raiser for the program. The children painted soup bowls that were auctioned, and all proceeds went to School Fuel. The activity not only raised $1,039, but also raised awareness.

“Most of our kids are not the ones in the school lunch programs—but there probably are a few that are,” said Melinda Hall, minister to preschool and children at First Baptist Church in San Marcos.

Members of First Baptist Church—those who volunteer with School Fuel and those who support it financially—recognize the importance of helping schools and the children they serve, Chaddick noted.

“It’s a practical expression of what God would have us do—to seek the common good,” he said. “It’s clearly an advantage to have an educated population that feeds into the community. That serves the good of the community. It seems obvious to us. …

“It’s just a natural fit for our church. I don’t think there was ever any theological angst about whether it was something we ought to be doing. It’s an obvious need, and it’s a way to show love for our neighbors.”

To view a video about School Fuel and the support the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides, click here.

This Week in Fellowship Southwest: What You’re Working On

1f3efd88-a0f7-4c0c-8b68-b6661d81d666One of our largest ministry and advocacy partners is Pastors for Texas Children, and its state affiliates in Oklahoma and soon in Arizona. PTC was able to grow quickly because many churches are already doing the foundational work of serving their local neighborhood schools in beautiful ways.

One of the congregations doing this important work is Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Pastor Mary Alice Birdwhistell writes about their relationship with their nearby school:

For the past several years, Calvary Baptist Church in Waco has been developing a growing partnership with West Avenue Elementary School, a local school right around the corner from our church, where over 95% of students receive free or reduced lunch. We began our partnership with a handful of mentors reading with children during the lunch hour, and this past year, we have grown to having over twenty mentors reading with over sixty children each week.
Since the school doesn’t have a PTA, they often call on Calvary to help with teacher appreciation and other special events. As Principal A told me recently, “Most of the people at Calvary don’t look like the majority of people in my school, but all I have to do is call, and you always show up – no strings attached.”
But our relationship has continued to grow beyond a 30-minute reading time each week.  At the beginning of the school year, we collected 60 backpacks filled with school supplies for children at the school, and school staff and Waco ISD administrators joined us in worship for a Blessing of the Packpacks. The principal of West Ave., Joe Alexander, often joins us for worship and lets us know how we can be praying for and with him and his school.
On the first day of school or before STAAR testing, we like to surprise the students, teachers, and staff with a high-five wall to share encouragement and excitement to begin their day, and we chalk the sidewalks with hopeful messages to stay with them throughout the week.
We are grateful for the students, teachers, and staff at West Avenue – they are part of our Calvary family. They have welcomed us into their school with kindness and hospitality. What a great joy it is to partner with them in serving our community.

Senior Adults Serve School Across the Street from Church

By Ken Camp, March 16, 2018 – BAPTIST STANDARD

Primetimers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church

Primetimers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church

ABILENE—Senior adults at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene have provided more than $70,000 in the past 13 years to help students at neighboring Bonham Elementary School.

More significantly, Pioneer Drive’s Primetimers have established deep relationships with the administration, faculty and students at the school, located across the street from the church facility.

“It’s important to have a strong church and a strong school in the area, here in this part of the community,” Associate Pastor Jeff Reid said. “It’s been a wonderful ministry relationship.”

Natural fit for retired educator

Malcolm Brown vividly remembers when his late wife of 62 years, JoAnn, launched the partnership between the church and the school.

“She had worked with children all her life in school,” he said. “She felt like the Primetimers organization needed a good missions outreach, and she suggested we adopt Bonham Elementary.”

As a retired schoolteacher and administrator, she developed an immediate rapport with the principal, who welcomed the senior adults’ involvement.

‘Needed a little extra attention’

One of the first initiatives Brown helped his wife organize was the “lunch buddy” program. About a dozen senior adults spent one lunch hour a week in the school cafeteria with a specific student.

“The principal would let us know about particular students the teachers identified who needed a little extra attention and love,” Brown said.

“The first little boy I sat with was from a broken home. It was an opportunity for me to be a real witness and encouragement to him.”

‘No strings attached’

The Primetimers also began collecting an annual offering for Bonham Elementary to provide a gift “with no strings attached,” Reid said. The first year, the senior adults donated about $1,000, and it has continued to grow significantly each year.

Cumulatively, the Primetimers have donated $70,000, which the school has used both to provide students a fun annual outing and to meet the needs of children from low-income families. About 68 percent of the students at Bonham qualify for free or reduced lunches, based on family income.

Every year before Christmas, students are invited to wear their pajamas to school one day. They board a school bus, drink hot chocolate and travel to downtown Abilene for a screening of The Polar Express at the historic Paramount Theater.

The offering also helps families from the school who are struggling financially to pay for their children’s dentist appointments, pediatrician visits, eyeglasses and prescription medicine.

‘A heart for the students’

The Primetimers also help keep the school supply closet at Bonham Elementary School stocked, and they volunteer in after-school tutoring and reading programs.

“We have a lot of retired educators in our church, and they still have a heart for the students,” Reid said.

Bonham students look forward to the day at the beginning of each school year when they can enjoy the free snow cones the Primetimers serve.

“It’s just a matter of being good neighbors,” Reid said. “It’s a way for our folks and the children to love on each other.”

Once a year, the students, faculty and staff show their appreciation to the Pioneer Drive senior adults by serving them a meal.

“It’s a happy experience for us, as well as for the children,” Brown said.

Public School Engagement: Connecting the Faith Community to the Future

By Charles Luke, PTC Associate Director

Dr.Charles.LukeThere is no question that our children represent the future of our churches, our neighborhoods, our country and our world. In the past, there were three pillars of community – the family, the church and the school. These three pillars still exist today but have been eroded by a number of factors that fragment our society. While the disintegration of family systems, the loss of spiritual focus by some faith leaders, and immense difficulties faced by educators present many challenges, it is perhaps poverty and lack of resources for many of our poorest kids that poses one of the largest threats.

Many of our urban school districts struggle with high poverty rates. Dallas Independent School District in Dallas, Texas has an economically disadvantaged rate near 90%. That means that in one of the largest school districts in the nation nine out of ten students live at or below the poverty line. The faith community can help with this.

Exhibiting the love of Christ by providing mentoring, tutoring and general support for children while still respecting the authority of school officials and the separation of church and state goes a long way toward addressing these issues. Mentoring provides students with the knowledge that someone cares enough about them to spend time with them. Tutoring provides students with an adult to help them learn. General support like backpack programs require little knowledge and a minimal investment but can feed a hungry child and family all weekend long.  A volunteer heart and a servant’s spirit are all that is needed.

Like the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, you don’t have to be in a high station in life to help those that are in need – you just need to be willing.

Intercessions for Children in Schools

God of all comfort,hear our prayers:

For those students today whose lives have become too full,

and for those who need places of involvement.

For those students who lack discipline to study,

and for those who lack permission to play.

For those students whose faith is shaking,

and for those whose faith needs to be shaken.

For those students who are sick, who are grieving, who are wounded, who are worried,

and for those who will walk beside them.

For those students who need inspiration,

and for those who need to be inspiring.

For the health of our communities and schools,

and for the wholeness of all of your children in it.

For all these we pray through Christ our Lord.


Thank you for your insight, wisdom, and challenging message!


Courtney Haworth

Resident Chaplain | Earle Hall

M.Div. Student | Truett Seminary

MSW Student | Baylor University

Educators, Experts Call on Commission to Calculate True Cost of Educating Students

By Laura Isensee March 19, 2018 – HOUSTON PUBLIC MEDIA

State Sen. Larry Taylor (left) with Chairman Justice Scott Brister (right)

State Sen. Larry Taylor (left) with Chairman Justice Scott Brister (right)

In its first meeting open to public comment Monday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance heard several themes echoed. One major one: Texas needs to figure out how much it actually costs to meet the state’s academic goals.
For example, Texas officials in higher education want the majority of young adults to have a college degree or another certificate beyond a high school diploma by 2030. And state lawmakers want all high school graduates to be prepared for either college or a career.
But Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers told the panel that those aren’t realistic expectations based on how Texas pays for public schools.
“I’m just asking that this commission, however you want to do it, somehow has to align what you expect out of us with the resources provided,” Chamber said. “Because right now the resources being provided are to meet a standard that’s right here, when the standards have been increased over the last five-six years exponentially.”
Chambers joined other administrators and experts asking the commission to study the cost of educating the state’s five million school children.
The panel is supposed to give state lawmakers recommendations to improve school funding. It was created after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in the state’s largest school finance lawsuit that the system was imperfect, but declined to mandate any fixes to the Texas Legislature.
The last time Texas had a commission on school finance reform in the 1980’s, it studied how much it cost to fund a high quality education. Since then academic standards and goals have changed.
“I urge this commission to really try to figure out what it takes to meet the outcomes that we desire and not to tie your hands prematurely and leave it up to the legislature to decide what’s feasible, what kind of shifting of budget priorities need to be made and if tax increases are what we need to fund our schools,” said Chandra Villanueva, an analyst with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Other themes that the panel heard: money matters and the issue of equity.
Paul Colbert, a former state representative who chaired budget and oversight of public education on the House Appropriations Committee, said that for the top students, money doesn’t matter.
“Your bright kids are going to do well regardless of what you do. But if your goal is to educate all of your children, then how much money you put in and how equitably you distribute it will answer whether or not you’re going to really be able to educate all of the children,” Colbert said.
David Hinojosa with the Intercultural Development Research Association gave the panel a list of what he finds as roadblocks to equity in the funding system.
“When we talk about whether or not education is the great equalizer, I don’t even think we can ever get there, if the funding system is so unequal and inequitable,” Hinojosa said.

The (Pul)pit and the Pendulum

By Kathy Cruz, February 28, 2018 – FW WEEKLY

Cover-3-681x744Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not kill political careers.” If Tuesday’s primary election leaves a political body count among lawmakers who have gone along with the controversial school voucher system pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on where you stand) may go to the 2,000-member Fort Worth-based Pastors for Texas Children (PTC).

Through community meetings held across the state, PTC, founded in 2013 by Baptist preacher Charles Foster Johnson, has worked to gin up support for public schools and to target lawmakers who have stood as a threat to said schools’ constitutionally mandated funding. The pastors view vouchers as benefiting families who can already afford costly private schools and feel there are other problems with the plan as well.

The vast majority of the state’s more than 5.3 million schoolchildren are from families that must rely on public education. Those who favor a voucher system say it would make public schools better because they would have to compete with private schools for students and taxpayer dollars, but members of PTC (and others) aren’t buying it.

The voucher proposal, which opponents often refer to as a “scheme,” floundered in the 2017 legislature, but it has failed before only to be resuscitated by politicians. A 13-member commission to study the school finance system was born out of last summer’s special session, and the panel was directed to deliver its recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 31. It is likely that vouchers – also called “education savings accounts” or “tax credits” – will resurface yet again during the 86th Legislature when it gets underway next year on Jan. 8.

“What we have in our lieutenant governor is someone who essentially wants to privatize public education and manipulates his Senate members toward those policies,” Johnson said. “So until we elect enough senators who tell him no, the voucher policy’s going to keep coming back like a bad penny.”

feat-1_LV4V3380-300x200Though there are voters who do support the idea, there is a question of just how many and whether lawmakers have been duped into thinking that the majority of their constituents favor a school voucher system when maybe they don’t. Last March, questions arose after a school choice group flooded the offices of lawmakers from mostly rural areas with letters bearing the names of constituents – some of whom were known by the lawmakers to support public schools and who claim to have never participated in any on-line pro-voucher petitions.

By taking on “Big Ed,” state lawmakers who are facing challenges to re-election may be – we’ll find out Tuesday – falling headlong into a political pit. The danger isn’t just from the statewide network of pastors, many of whom have spouses or other family members who work in public schools and whose congregations include current and former school district employees. The threat is also coming from a number of powerful advocacy groups, including the Texas Association of School Boards, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Parent PAC, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities. As well, there are business leaders who fear that reducing funding for public schools may negatively impact the future workforce.

Lawmakers’ problems don’t end there.

A rift has been growing within the Republican Party, which dominates both the Texas House and Senate. For weeks during last year’s legislative session, animosity intensified against the Texas Freedom Caucus, a small group of mega-conservative lawmakers that had formed in February. One of its members is District 60 state Rep. Mike Lang of Granbury, a Tea Party favorite who has backed some versions of the voucher idea and whose campaign website states that “the choice of education needs to be in the hands of the parents.” Lang is now embroiled in a bitter re-election fight against fellow Republican Jim Largent, Granbury’s school superintendent. (A lesser-known Republican, Gregory Risse of Coleman County, is also on the ballot for that seat but is not actively campaigning.)

The race, considered to be among the top to watch in the GOP primary, is reflective of the acrimony within the party.

Earlier this month, Largent pulled out of a candidates forum hosted by the Republican Party of Hood County after Tea Party activists who had infiltrated that group’s leadership adopted – and actively publicized – a blistering no-confidence resolution against him. Largent and his supporters responded by hosting their own event on the same night as the forum, billing it as the “Common Sense Conservative Republican Rally.”

PTC Community Meeting

PTC Community Meeting

Largent drew the larger crowd, as evidenced by photos taken from different angles at both events. Lang’s appearance at Granbury City Hall drew fewer than 50 people, while one estimate put the number of attendees at Largent’s come-and-go affair at Revolver Brewing at several hundred. But that didn’t stop Lang’s former campaign manager and former chief of staff, Zachary Maxwell, now coalition director for the ultra-conservative group Empower Texans, from posting on social media a cropped photo of the Lang event that omitted rows of empty chairs with a claim that Lang had spoken to a “packed house.”

Although Johnson said the PTC isn’t coordinating with public school advocacy groups, they all are working toward the same goal: replacing lawmakers who support vouchers with those who don’t.

“I think we’re going to turn it in the 2018 elections,” he said of his pastors group and others who oppose vouchers. “I do think we have the ability to change the face of Texas politics. I think the secret is educating communities about the threat to public education. A church leader is a spokesman. A church leader has a constituency built in. A pastor is a community leader. He already has a platform. He already has people following him on Facebook and followers on Twitter. And when we can educate that pastor as an advocate for public education, we get a powerful spokesperson for public education. Democracy’s a beautiful thing.”

Ninety-five of the House’s 150 seats, all of which are on the ballot this year, are currently held by Republicans. Twenty-seven Democratic incumbents drew no challengers, but only 10 Republicans were so lucky.

In the Senate, 20 of the chamber’s 31 seats are held by Republicans. Fifteen Senate seats are on the 2018 ballot, and all but one –– the seat held since 1993 by Democrat Royce West of Dallas –– are contested.

Charles Luke, executive director of Spiritual Care Network of Tarrant County and coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools, of which PTC is a member organization, feels confident that change is coming.

“The business community is going, ‘OK, we don’t like extremist politics,’ ” Luke said. “ ‘We don’t like you trying to spend our time and our tax money on issues that don’t resonate with us, are bad for business, and aren’t going to be helpful in educating our populace to be a strong participant in the business community.’ So that message, I believe, is going to be sent pretty loud and clear by business support. A lot of these extremist policies you’re seeing coming out of the Senate –– and we’ve got some House members that support them –– I believe that’s going to be over with before too long. I believe the pendulum is swinging back to a more reasonable, rational approach to public policy.”

If Tuesday brings a swing of the pendulum, the church leaders will have worked to achieve that change in a way that is unique in light of bitter bipartisan political divisions both statewide and nationally. They did not engage in personal attacks or angry confrontations, nor did they publicly support one candidate over another. Whatever political careers they may have snuffed out, they killed with kindness.

Shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday, Feb. 14, vehicle after vehicle pulled into the parking lot of The Table Community Church, located in northeastern Tarrant County across from Boswell High School, part of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district. Standing in springlike weather just outside the door of The Effie Center, a building on the church campus where an after-school program is provided for teens, was Johnson. He greeted school and government officials and others as they arrived for one of PTC’s community meetings. Inside, a five-piece student jazz band from Boswell performed while attendees queued up for a catered Mexican buffet and then filled every seat, about 100 them. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner, and several candidates for public office were among those in attendance.

The hour-long pep rally in praise of public ed involved remarks from Luke and several other spiritual leaders. It ended with the presentation of a plaque to District 99 State Rep. Charlie Geren for his support of public education. Geren is being challenged in the Republican primary by Bo French. Democrat Michael Stackhouse is also seeking to unseat him.

With PTC’s community meetings, which will continue even after Tuesday’s election, Johnson aims to show appreciation and support for those currently working in the state’s public school system while encouraging attendees to show their support of public schools at the polls. PTC’s mission includes promoting social justice for children and working to advance legislation aimed at that goal. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the organization doesn’t endorse specific candidates.

“We endorse public education for all children, fully funded, particularly on the early grade level, and we oppose the privatization of it –– that is, using our tax dollars to subsidize private education for affluent people,” Johnson said. “So all over the state we’re going into communities with this message, and we’re telling them to vote. Vote for public education. Study the candidates. Determine who supports public education and vote for that candidate. And take 10 other people to the polls with you to do the same.”

Charles Foster Johnson (Left) With Charlie Geren (Right)

Charles Johnson (Left) With Charlie Geren (Right)

Though some have described the coordinated push as an anti-Tea Party movement, Johnson said that is not the case with PTC.

“We’ve got lots of Tea Party folks,” he said. “Most smart Tea Party people, why would they want the government expanding into their private schools through a voucher? We encourage people to vote. We’re building civic engagement, rallying the community to get behind the public schools and to vote for a House and Senate member who will do the same. It’s that simple. The voucher is government intrusion into our home and private schools. It’s wasteful. It’s an entitlement. There’s no accountability attached to it, and so conservatives oppose it. If someone calls themselves a conservative and is pro-voucher, he’s stolen the term and is not using it correctly because conservatives stand for limited government and fiscal accountability.”

With many private schools being religion-based, Luke said that the voucher system would threaten religious liberty, despite claims to the contrary by lawmakers.

“Religious liberty is a huge piece of Pastors for Texas Children,” he said. “We believe that if the state starts giving money to church schools, then the next step is the state’s going to tell that church school what curriculum they can use and the next step is to tell them what they can and cannot preach in the church school and what they can and can’t say in their congregation. We just don’t want the state getting their fingers into a church school that way.”

Opponents say that only district and charter schools offer true accountability and transparency. And, while proponents claim that vouchers would give students from low-income families a greater opportunity to attend private institutions, those private schools will still be able to pick and choose who they accept, PTC members point out.

TCU Political Science Professor Jim Riddlesperger said it is “easy to understand” the argument that forcing public schools to compete with private institutions would make public schools better. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

“Even if you give vouchers of a couple thousand dollars to a family, does that mean that they’re going to be able to send a child to a $15,000-per-year private school? The answer is, probably not,” Riddlesperger said. “And so how many people does it really impact to have a voucher system? The answer is, probably not that many.”

The school voucher concept is “complex,” he said, and “not really just a liberal-conservative issue. … The voucher system, we need to be careful not to overclaim what it can do, because it also has the potential to take some of the better students out of public schools, thereby diminishing the opportunities of the students who remain. It also has the potential of driving up the cost of public education when you take students out of public schools and give them vouchers to attend private schools. So there are all kinds of related issues on the voucher system.”

Luke said that PTC’s get-out-the-vote effort has been criticized by some who feel that the church leaders’ public advocacy is inappropriate.

“They say that about educators, too,” he said. “They say, ‘I don’t think teachers or school superintendents should be involved in politics. You’re getting paid with taxpayer dollars.’ And then the politician turns around and says whatever they want to say, and they’regetting paid with taxpayer dollars.”

With the well-being of millions of school-age children at stake, “for me to tell a minister, ‘I don’t think you should advocate for public schools on a policy level,’ it would be unconscionable not to advocate for children,” Luke said. “I think a minister that won’t advocate for children is derelict in his duty. Sometimes there have actually been political policies proposed to eliminate food programs for poor kids. So when there’s policy that literally takes food out of a kid’s mouth, you need to be down there, Pastor.”

Luke said that 93 percent of children are educated through public, not private, schools and that the public school system “impacts your life every single day,” he said. “We’re taking on all these social issues and all these education issues and trying to get kids ready to work, to go to college, to participate in our economy.”

Ryan Baer, pastor of Ridglea Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, speaks out against vouchers through letters to lawmakers and newspapers. He is particularly interested in seeing how the District 10 senate race will shake out. Incumbent Konni Burton is unchallenged on the Republican primary ballot, but there are two candidates for that office on the Democratic ticket – both are public ed supporters. Beverly Powell is a longtime Burleson school district trustee, and Allison Campolo’s mother supported the family on her teaching salary when Campolo’s attorney father represented clients pro bono.

In 2014, Burton, a former Tea Party activist, won the senate seat held by Wendy Davis before Davis’ unsuccessful gubernatorial run, winning first place in a five-candidate primary and then defeating Democrat Libby Willis in the November election. Considered in Republican circles to be a “rock star” (as one publication put it) at the time of her election, Burton voted for Senate Bill 3 last year, which Baer described as “the latest push toward a voucher bill.”

As for why there has been such a strong push among some lawmakers for school choice, Baer said, “As the old saying goes, follow the dollars and look at who is underwriting the re-election campaigns of these folks and look at what their interests are and what their particular worldviews are, and I think you will find very quickly that there are some very deep pockets in this state that make healthy contributions to these folks. Power comes in two forms: dollars and numbers. And I think we’re starting to see an awakening here on the numbers side, and I’m interested to see what the primary season brings.”

Baer feels bothered by the disinterest of some at a time when, in his view, public schools are in jeopardy.

“There seems to be an attitude of ‘Well, they’re not my kids,’ and I find that unconscionable,” he said. “That little third-grader that I’m helping with his math, he may someday be my CPA or my physician, and I need for him to receive the best education that money can buy, at taxpayer expense. That’s part of our social contract as Americans, as Texans. It’s vital to our shared collective future.”

But are kids receiving the best education that money can buy, or is a lot of that money going to overpaid superintendents and others? Those who favor government-funded school subsidies argue the latter.

A piece posted online last month by Empower Texans denounced the “bloated education bureaucracy” that lines the pockets of administrators and school vendors while teachers are underpaid and homeowners pay exorbitant property taxes. The editorial warned that “liberals are working to hijack the Republican primary at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers.”

Johnson feels that the bloated bureaucracy argument is “weak” and that the oligarchy is in Austin rather than in the state’s 1,100 school districts. He believes salaries for Texas superintendents are “extremely modest” – and he’s right, since they’re around the $154,717 national average – considering that most of these educators are in charge of budgets that are in the millions of dollars and oversee hundreds, if not thousands, of students and school district employees.

“Schools are already woefully under-funded,” he said. “You would have poor children going to public school and more affluent children going to private schools underwritten by the public treasury. So you’re going to continue to produce racial and economic apartheid, all the while dumbing down the electorate. Obviously, democracy depends on an informed public. And one of the reasons for the privatization of public education is the oligarchy doesn’t want the general populace being educated. That’s the result if a voucher bill passes.”

Johnson isn’t the first to suggest that the school voucher system has racial undertones.

Last summer, the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for American Progress described the school voucher system as having “racist origins.” Their report detailed how, more than six decades ago, officials in Prince Edward County in Virginia sought to avoid racial integration through vouchers. Voucher critics say the report illustrates the possible consequences of the Trump administration’s support for federal investment in the spread of voucher systems.

TCU’s Riddlesperger said that Texas is “a majority minority state” where Hispanic children have made up the largest student demographic for about the past five years, and that trend is only going to grow.

“The face of Texas politics is already changing and is changing rapidly – and that’s going to continue,” he said. “The single biggest issue in state politics in terms of funding is always public education. It’s kind of the core function of states. And the really weird thing is, a bunch of the funding for public education comes, not from the state, but from local independent school districts.”

As he navigates discord in the political arena, Baer is trying to set an example for his three sons on how to communicate with others effectively and respectfully when conflicts arise.

“Conflict is the means by which the best ideas can rise to the top,” he said. “And that’s part of what makes our democratic process, when it works, so beautiful. But how we respond to conflict tells a lot about who we are. We’ve lost our ability to vigorously debate, and everything has become instantly personal. I hold no personal ill will toward the governor or the lieutenant governor. As a matter of fact, I’ve tried to make a habit of praying for them, praying for their families, for their protection, for their guidance. Same thing for our president, for everyone who is tasked with the enormous responsibility of leading. I’ve discovered that when you’re praying for someone, it’s awfully hard to resent them.”

Luke said that he has dealt with contentious people many times at community meetings held by PTC across the state. He recalled a recent meeting in Central Texas during which a minister “disagreed in a little bit of an arrogant, contentious manner.”

What PTC members typically try to do in those situations, he said, “is be patient, be kind, and understand that that particular person just had a different opinion. We have to get to that place in our society where it’s OK to disagree with what’s being said and to express that, and that results in civil discourse, not name calling.”

Baer said he uses his pulpit routinely to remind his 400-member congregation about early voting and Election Day, just as he reminds them of other things that impact the community, such as when a new school year kicks off and school zone speed limits are again in effect. In his view, reminding his congregation to vote is part of being a community leader.

“I’m the grandson of a POW,” he said. “Every time I go to the ballot box, I think of the sacrifices he made.”

Baer offered an example of why every vote matters.

“One of our elders is former City Councilman Zim Zimmerman, who lost re-election last year,” he said. “There are about 100,000 registered voters in District 3 in Fort Worth, and I believe there were 7,000 votes cast, and [Zimmerman] lost by 600. And that pains me greatly.”

Baer was close in his recollection. The number of votes cast last year in the race between W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and Brian Byrd was 8,034. Zimmerman netted 46 percent of the ballots cast to Byrd’s 54 percent, losing the seat by 686 votes.

Largent, the school superintendent hoping to oust Lang in next week’s primary, wrote in a 2016 online article commemorating “Make Education a Priority” month that Patrick was elected lieutenant governor in a 2014 runoff against David Dewhurst with the votes of just 3 percent of the state’s eligible voters. That means that 97 percent of Texas voters didn’tvote for him.

Riddlesperger believes that vouchers could be “the bathroom bill of the 2018 elections.”

Dan Patrick, he continued, “was kind of the father of that bill as well.”

However, Riddlesperger isn’t convinced there will be a big backlash against lawmakers simply over school vouchers.

“While voters may consider education policies when they cast their votes for legislators, that’s certainly not the only issue they’re going to be thinking about,” he said. “They’re going to be thinking about public transportation. They’re going to be thinking about their taxes. They’re going to be thinking about public parks and their maintenance, and so forth.”

The question may not be whether some voters will be focused on other issues besides public education but rather how many of the state’s more than 700,000 school employees and other public school supporters will turn out at the polls, possibly having the same kind of impact as Patrick’s 3 percent.

There seems to be concern that this may happen.

Last month, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion in which he questioned whether any “educational purpose” is served by school districts that promote or facilitate voting. This brought a halt to some school districts busing to the polls students who are old enough to vote. Shortly after Johnson’s community meeting at The Effie Center on Feb. 14, Paxton’s office announced that cease-and-desist letters had been sent to the Brazosport, Holliday, and Lewisville school districts because of activities that Paxton had determined amounted to “unlawful electioneering.”

The attorney general’s actions seemingly were in response to an initiative pushed last year to school districts across the state by Texas Educators Vote. It was a campaign that encouraged school boards to adopt resolutions promoting voting among school district employees and students. Emboldened by the January opinion, Empower Texans quickly kicked off its “ISD Whistleblower Project” through which letters were sent to school district employees, encouraging teachers to rat out their colleagues.

Field days, it seems, aren’t just for schools. They are also for social media.

That campaign resulted in a #blowingthewhistle backlash of tweets – thousands of them – from public education supporters who mocked Empower Texans while “blowing the whistle” on teachers who have performed selfless acts, such as providing lunch money for children whose accounts were empty.

The mockery continued when the organization’s General Counsel sent a letter to Splendor school district employees warning them that using school “recources” to transport students or employees to polling places would violate the law and stating that “the Texas Whistleblower Act protects pubic” – emphasis ours – “employees.”

But while that initiative has been viewed by many as laughable, it has also been interpreted as an effort to suppress the vote and intimidate teachers.

“They want low voter turnout so they can keep getting re-elected,” Luke said of some incumbents who have taken an unpopular stance on public education and other issues. “That’s personal self-interest at the expense of you and me, and we’re not going to put up with it. It’s just time. Some of these folks don’t realize that their days are numbered.”

Clergy, Educators Gather to Support Public Schools

By Ruth Campbell February 17, 2018 – ODESSA AMERICAN ONLINE

Rev. Dr. Dawn Weaks

Rev. Dr. Dawn Weaks

With the idea of bringing faith leaders and educators together to help Odessa schools, the Rev. Dawn Weeks, co-pastor of Connection Christian Church, organized a Celebration of Public Education luncheon.

Held at the West Texas Food Bank, it attracted about 30 people from local churches and Ector County Independent School District. Retired educators, interested community members and representatives for Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa also were on hand.

The Rev. Bobby Broyles, West Texas regional director and board president of Pastors for Texas Children, spoke to attendees about the organization, its goal of having every church to adopt a school and reviewed its history.

Made up of faith leaders, educators and pastors, Pastors for Texas Children is five years old, Broyles said.

“We are very cognizant of the fact of separation of church and state, so we are not evangelical in the sense that we are going into the schools and trying to convert students,” Broyles said. “We are there to help administrators, teachers and students be the best they can be. That can be done in all kinds of ways,” Broyles said.

A small part of what Pastors for Texas Children does is advocate for public education in Austin to keep public money from being spent for private schools, he added.

“We love private schools. We love home schools, but we don’t believe public money should be spent for that purpose. We believe it’s a violation of separation of church of state,” Broyles said at Thursday’s meeting.

“We believe that it is the only way to go because once state money begins to filter into churches and church schools, then it’s just a matter of time, if not immediately, that all the regulations and everything else follows that. We believe private means private, and as much we value private education we simply believe it,” Broyles added.

He added that there are millions of children who would not be able to afford private school, even if they had a voucher.

“We are standing up for those who can’t speak for themselves in that way,” Broyles said.

In 2011, Broyles said the state took $5 billion out of public schools. Two years later, they put 60 percent back in and “crowed” about how they had refunded public education.

A few years ago, Broyles said the state was providing 52 percent of school funding and now it’s around 38 percent.

“Compound that with 180,000-plus new students in Texas every year. We are woefully, woefully, woefully underfunded,” Broyles said.

Pastors for Texas Children doesn’t endorse candidates, but he said there are always good, conservative people running for office who support public schools and educators just need to know who they are.

“If teachers vote as a bloc, they can get what they need,” Broyles said.

With reduced state funding, Weaks said the state is looking to local communities to make up the difference in property taxes. Funds for extracurricular activities, such as fine arts and athletics, have been cut in half, and those programs may the only reason some students go to school, Weaks said.

Broyles was a pastor for 42 years and is now the interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Cisco. Broyles said his group gave Seliger and other legislators its highest award recently. He observed that it’s tough to be pro public education in the Texas Senate, but Seliger has stood up to the “lies and deceit.”

Pastors for Texas Children has been fighting against vouchers since 1996. It was hoped that the idea would be defeated by now, but that hasn’t happened. He said the last two legislative sessions, his group has stopped vouchers. He added that private schools don’t have to take all students.

Broyles said there is a misconception among school superintendents that someone from Pastors for Texas Children would probably want to gripe about the schools not praying enough or not teaching the right things. But they want to help, Broyles said.

“Teachers are doing God’s work. Pastors for Texas Children believes even non-Christian teachers are doing God’s work,” Broyles said.

Broyles said one of the things he wanted to get people thinking about what they can do together as churches for schools. He mentioned working with parents and students on filling out college financial aid forms and having quarterly meetings with school administrators to find out what is going on in the schools.

He added that anybody and any church, no matter how they feel about vouchers, can be part of the effort.

“We need to help all kids, wherever the Lord gives us the opportunity to do so,” Broyles said.

Weaks said the next step is gathering a group of interested church leaders and pastors with Debbie Lieb, community liaison specialist with Volunteers and Partners at ECISD, to get churches volunteering and supporting the schools in tangible ways.

Weaks said Thursday’s gathering was encouraging.

“I was really pleased by the turnout and the way people are passionate about our schools. It was great to see that kind of dedication,” Weaks said.

Voucher Opposition Article of Faith for Pastor

By Karen Francisco February 11,2018 – THE JOURNAL GAZETTE

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

The founder of the 2,000-member Pastors for Texas Children is coming to Indiana, and he has a message for the state’s lawmakers:

“Voucher schools and charter schools are being established in states to be parallel systems of education supported by the public,” said Charles Foster Johnson. “We think that’s wrong. We think it’s wrong basically for religious- liberty reasons.”

The Fort Worth Baptist minister spoke via Skype to about three dozen educators and clergy last month in an information session hosted by Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. His remarks were a warm-up to a visit Monday, where Johnson will meet with advocates in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis interested in establishing an Indiana counterpart to his Texas group. That group successfully blocked repeated efforts to pass voucher legislation, including an attempt last year to tie school funding to such a bill. That’s no small accomplishment in a state with strong Republican majorities and a governor intent on establishing school choice.

“We’ve become somewhat the tip of the spear in public education advocacy here in Texas,” Johnson said. “What we have learned is when the local minister comes alongside the local educators – the superintendents, principal, classroom teacher – whoa! The legislator listens. Because we are preachers, and we stand before congregations. And congregations vote. We’re influence brokers in the society. … We are forming partnerships with these other servants of God – who serve our children through the public schools.”

Pastors for Texas Children has a simple model. Its members talk to ministers, youth ministers and children’s ministry leaders about the “moral message of public education for all children” and urge them to connect with their local schools as supporters and volunteers, but without proselytizing, according to Johnson. Some then take the additional step of becoming involved in public advocacy: “This is what a voucher is. This is what proper funding for public schools is all about. This is why vouchers are bad for society.”

The message is catching on. Pastors for Oklahoma Children is now in place, and there are efforts to establish groups not only in Indiana, but also in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arizona, Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Johnson, whose pastorates have included the 6,000-member Trinity Baptist Church of San Antonio, speaks with a frankness unusual in education conversations in Indiana.

“I am a Baptist Christian. I have certain convictions that have shaped my experience of God, faith, church and – frankly – I don’t want my tax dollars supporting religious programs that I don’t agree with, any more than my friends of other faith traditions don’t want their tax dollars supporting religious programs that might adhere to my own beliefs,” he said.

“I don’t agree with my tax dollars supporting Muslim charter schools – the Gulen movement, that believes in male superiority over females. And that’s what’s happening here in Texas through Harmony Charter Schools,” Johnson said. “I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters – they have a wonderful faith tradition – but I don’t believe in the infallibility of the pope. I don’t believe in the veneration of Mary, any more than my Catholic friends want their tax dollars supporting Baptist church-schools that teach the priesthood of all believers, a concept they don’t believe in. This is the reason why – for 240 years – we have had church-state separation. We don’t need to go soft on that conviction now.”

Johnson said Indiana doesn’t need 2,000 faith leaders to influence its lawmakers.

“If you had 25 conversant, well-informed pastors that made visits at the Statehouse, you probably could block some bad policy and promote some good policy,” he said,. “A little bit goes a long way. You know the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – it’s really true.”

But Indiana’s voucher system, now in its seventh year, is well entrenched in the state’s education system, with more than $520 million spent on Choice Scholarships since 2011. More than 90 percent of schools accepting voucher students are faith-based – primarily Catholic or Lutheran. Many Hoosiers seem to equate support for vouchers as the faith-based position, even though about 90 percent of Indiana families choose public schools.

The powerful case offered by Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children, however, could have many rethinking the blurring line between government and Indiana’s church-based schools.

“It’s called church-state separation,” he said. “When you take public dollars through vouchers and charters that are connected to religious schools, you are violating the First Amendment. You are violating the religious liberty, a gift from God – James Madison didn’t make it up – that government should not be involved in religion.”