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

 

PTC Statement on the Senate Passage of SB 3

SB 3 providing private school vouchers with public tax dollars passed the Texas Senate this afternoon on an 18-13 vote.

It succeeded only after procedural maneuvering and bad-faith legislative manipulation that is beneath the dignity of a democracy of the people of Texas.

Rural Republican Senate members accepted the terms of the bill after assurances that their districts would be exempted from its toxic effects.  In short, they supported a policy that they would not have for the children of their communities.  We have rarely seen such cynicism among public policymakers.

Essentially, what the bill does is provide a new government entitlement program for poor families to place their children in woefully inadequate private schools far inferior to their neighborhood public schools—all without the proper accountability and oversight that should accompany tax dollars.

Furthermore, it violates God’s Law of religious liberty for all people by authorizing government funds to establish religious causes and purposes in faith-based private schools.

In the midst of this morass of moral compromise, Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville withstood Senate leadership’s relentless pressure to betray their convictions and support the bill.  Unlike their rural Republican colleagues, they were steadfast in their opposition to the policy and remained unbowed.  We are particularly grateful for their courage.

We pray this bad bill will die a quick death in the House of Representatives.  Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty have declared clearly and resolutely their opposition to it.

The public education of all children is clearly mandated by the Texas Constitution and consistently advanced by the moral and spiritual vision of all faiths.  Pastors for Texas Children remain committed to this foundation of our social order and join all people of God and good will in preserving it.

Unfortunate goal of school choice movement

David Currie, Special to the Standard-Times

PTC Board Member David Currie

PTC Board Member David Currie

Many years ago, Jerry Falwell articulated the goal of the school choice movement well when he said, “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!”

Since the beginning of the religious right movement with Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson and others, the aim has been to destroy public education in America. Today they are closer than ever to achieving their goal because it is now being promoted by the president, his education secretary Betsy DeVos and Republican leaders in Texas government including the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and land commissioner.

This is what you have elected in Texas, my friends, by choosing party over sanity.

Vouchers, school choice, education savings accounts — they are all code words intended to mask the real aim of this movement: destroy public education in America and turn all schools into institutions of religious indoctrination.

Now you may say, “Well, David, you are being an alarmist. It would never go that far. Why not try it in Texas?”

Pastors for Texas Children, on whose board I serve, will host an information session at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, at Southland Baptist Church. Speakers will include Veribest Superintendent Bobby Fryar and Barry Haenisch, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Schools. The purpose is to answer that very question for you.

But let me do my best to answer it here. I live in the Wall ISD. If 20 students get $5,000 apiece to leave the public school to attend a private school, Wall ISD will lose close to $130,000 that can’t be replaced. That money is just lost. No teacher can be fired, no bus route stopped, no money on utilities saved — they just lose the money.

So let me speak bluntly to my friends in the Wall ISD (and you can apply this to any ISD in our area) — when you keep electing right-wing, religious right Republicans at the state and national level, you are voting to close our schools. Please figure that out before it’s too late.

Notice I didn’t say all Republicans. State Rep. Drew Darby is a Republican who opposes vouchers. No, I said “right-wing, religious right” Republicans such as Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Ted Cruz, Sid Miller (yes, we have a Texas agriculture commissioner who is trying to destroy our rural communities — he sponsored the voucher bill when in the Texas House). Please take the time to learn where different Republicans stand on our children’s education.

Now let me warn you about something else. Since 2008, the state has reduced spending on education by $339 per student and reduced the state’s share of spending on public education from 44.9 percent to 38.4 percent. They keep pushing the burden onto local taxpayers while bragging they are cutting taxes. (They do this to our counties as well).

Public education already is underfunded by the state; if vouchers pass we will be using tax dollars to support both public and private schools, which will harm our public schools even more.

David R. Currie, Ph.D., serves on the board of Pastors for Texas Children and is the chairman of the Tom Green County Democratic Party.

Johnson: Call vouchers what they are: government entitlement and state overreach

HOUSTON CHRONICLE – February 15, 2017 by Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

The state Legislature is considering several school choice proposals this session, primarily featuring a tax-credit plan and tax savings accounts. The issue is receiving support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The state Legislature is considering several school choice proposals this session, primarily featuring a tax-credit plan and tax savings accounts. The issue is receiving support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“School choice” is only the latest euphemism for programs that divert public tax dollars to subsidize private and home school education.

They go by many names: education savings accounts and tuition tax credits are the two pseudonyms of Senate Bill 3 sponsored by Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor and prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

But, Texans know how to call something by its real name: private school vouchers.

Voucher policies have come before the Legislature numerous times in the past. Each time, the proposals have been defeated. Why? Because conservative Texans can smell a government entitlement and expansion program a country mile away.

Full funding for our public schools is a public trust of God’s common good. As Pastors for Texas Children, we believe education is a gift from God for all children. Not just children who can afford it, or children from stable families, or children whose parents are engaged in the schools, but all children.

The founders of our great state encoded this moral principle in Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

There is not one single constitutional syllable about private schools. The Legislature has absolutely no authority over them. Such private voluntary assemblies are commonly religious in purpose and curriculum. For the state to insinuate itself into these spaces is egregious government overreach and violation of the religious liberty we cherish in this state.

Why is the Texas Senate once again pushing a policy that the people of Texas have repudiated so many times before? If it had the general support of Texans, why would it be masquerading under the deceptive moniker of “school choice?”

The answer is this: Texans love their neighborhood and community public schools, honor the dedicated public schoolteachers who sacrificially serve our children, endorse public education as a cornerstone of our American democracy, and oppose privatizing it for the financial gain of a few.

Common sense says that no government voucher will begin to pay for a private education – or at least one that even approximates the quality of most public schools. So, who will benefit from the voucher? Not poor families, but rather those financially stable enough to afford the private educational subsidy that the voucher will provide.

Importantly, where is the necessary public oversight for an education savings account paid for by tax dollars? Would a monthly car payment be a justified educational expense if children were transported to a private school? How much expanded and additional government bureaucracy would be required to handle tuition tax credits? Will the state require the rigorous testing and assessment that private school families seek to avoid in the first place?

These are common-sense questions that “school choice” vouchers cannot answer.

“School choice” vouchers are not a real “choice” at all for the overwhelming majority of our children. It is unfair policy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Let us reaffirm our moral and constitutional obligation to support the public education of our children. Let us cease manipulating our children’s education as a political issue. Let us come together as a unified Texas community to “make suitable provision” for God’s gift of education to all Texas children.

Rev. Johnson, of Fort Worth, is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Pastors for Texas Children.

Read the article on the Houston Chronicle website here.

#TxEd Tuesday initiative started by school superintendents

82Three superintendents serving schools in Region 10, John Wink (Blue Ridge ISD), Doug Williams (Sunnyvale ISD), and Kevin Worthy (Royse City ISD), invite you to participate in the #TxEdTuesday social media campaign to promote public education, to encourage and thank legislators who support education, and to post messages of support/or opposition for bills that stand to impact students and teachers.

Here is how it works: (1.) Each Tuesday, participants will use Twitter and Facebook to engage their legislators about the great things happening in their public schools. (2.) They will also tweet and post messages of support for legislators and bills that can greatly improve public education. (3.) Don’t forget to attach pictures or images; it will increase engagement. (4.) Also, tag people, especially legislators. One goal is to let members of the House know that we support their work and their support of public education. (5.) Use the hashtag #TxEdTuesday to ensure your posts are part of the campaign.

So, here is what we need for you to do:

TELL IT – Tell your school’s story. What good news do you have to share? Also thank the legislators who support your students, families, and teachers. Post messages of support or opposition for bills that stand to impact students.

TAG IT – Tag your state representatives and senators (See the attached list). It is very important that you include the hashtag #TxEdTuesday. This will allow everyone to easily see the #TxEdTuesday tweets and retweet throughout the day.

SHARE IT – Share and retweet positive stories you see from other school districts. Let’s support each other and public education in Texas!

Prayer Luncheon, Advocacy Training and Legislative Briefing

77Join Pastors for Texas Children for a meaningful prayer luncheon for our legislators and for a legislative briefing as we advance through the 85th session of the Texas Legislature. We will be praying for our senators and representatives as they face the difficult task of making policy decisions for Texas.

Event Location: First United Methodist Church of Austin – 1201 Lavaca Street – Austin, Texas

Event Time: 10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (Lunch will be provided)

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/prayer-luncheon-advocacy-training-and-legislative-briefing-tickets-31939644336

For more information contact Dr. Charles Luke at 940-768-8594 or via email at charlesluke43@gmail.com. You may also contact Rev. Charles Foster Johnson at 210-379-1066 or via email at charlie@charlesfosterjohnson.com.