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

August 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEXAS TRIBUNE – July 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire article here….

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…

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

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.”

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.

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.

School choice bill pitches savings accounts, tax credit scholarships

By Alliya Swaby – TEXAS TRIBUNE

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Sen. Larry Taylor on Monday filed Senate Bill 3, which pushes education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to subsidize private school tuition and other education expenses.

One of the most anticipated debates of the 85th Legislative Session began taking shape Monday with the layout of a two-part Texas Senate bill that would allow for Texas taxpayer dollars to be used to help parents send their kids to private or religious schools.

Senate Bill 3, filed by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, would establish the creation of two voucher-like programs that some parents could combine to subsidize the entire cost of private school tuition. 

The first half of the bill proposes education savings accounts, or ESAs, which give Texas parents public money to spend on private K-12 school tuition and education-related expenses, including tutoring, technology, textbooks and special education services. Five states have implemented the program so far, mostly for students who have special needs.

Read the entire article here …