Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Statement on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Endorsement of School Choice Vouchers

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson - Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children

January 24, 2017  by Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said today that school choice voucher programs constitute “a civil rights issue” and said he would sign a school choice bill if one comes to him.

With all due respect to Gov. Abbott, voucher-type schemes are the antithesis of civil rights.

“School choice” voucher programs re-segregate our schools according to race.

“School choice” vouchers are not for poor children, as they are purported to be, because they don’t begin to cover the cost of a private school education.

“School choice” vouchers underwrite the private education of families affluent enough to send their children to private schools.

“School choice” vouchers violate religious liberty by establishing and advancing religious schools with public tax dollars.

“School choice” vouchers are unconstitutional because they do not “make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools” as the Texas Constitution mandates the Texas Legislature to do.

“School choice” vouchers deplete the funding of the public schools that do not screen or discriminate, but accept and love all children regardless of race and class.

“School choice” vouchers destabilize and overburden the traditional neighborhood public school.

“School choice” vouchers expand and extend government into the sacred and private spheres of our home and church schools.

“School choice” voucher programs do not improve the education of children who receive them.

“School choice” vouchers are not a real “choice” at all, except for those who would privatize the public trust of education for all children, making commodities of our kids and markets of our classrooms.

The American civil rights tradition was forged by values of human dignity and equality taught and modeled for our children every day in traditional public schools.  Hijacking the term “civil rights” to advance the narrow private interest of “school choice” vouchers is morally wrong, and we call upon Gov. Abbott and other Texas state leaders to cease doing so now.

Video: Rev. Charles F. Johnson provides invited testimony at House Public Education Committee

On October 17, 2016 Rev. Charles F. Johnson, Executive Director for Pastors for Texas Children provided invited testimony on public school vouchers to the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee.  Johnson spoke against vouchers saying that the privatization of public schools would “turn our classrooms into marketplaces and our children into commodities.”

 See his testimony by clicking here…

Pastors for Texas Children Executive Director to provide invited testimony at Texas House Public Education Committee meeting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 14, 2016

Rev. Charles F. Johnson to testify before Texas House Public Education Committee

Rev. Charles F. Johnson to testify before Texas House Public Education Committee

Pastors for Texas Children – an organization with nearly 2000 registered ministers dedicated to providing wrap-around care and support for children in neighborhood public schools – is pleased to announce that our Executive Director, Rev. Charles F. Johnson has been invited to testify before the Texas House Public Education Committee this Monday, October 17th at 9:00 a.m. at the Capitol in Austin. The interim meeting is focused on “school choice” – something Johnson says is vouchers by another name.

“I’m honored to be asked to deliver direct testimony of what we have seen in our neighborhood schools,” Rev. Johnson said. “That Pastors for Texas Children is recognized by the legislature as a significant voice on public education is validation of all of the hard work put in by our pastors and church leaders in support of public schools over the past few years.”

Johnson went on to say that his main concerns about vouchers involve the welfare of Texas children.  “Simply put, it is morally unacceptable to take money from the public education of all our children to underwrite the private education of a few.”

Johnson is also concerned with the protection of the fundamental right of religious liberty of private and home schools.  “The State of Texas has absolutely zero authority to meddle in the affairs of our fine religious private schools. Vouchers and voucher-schemes erode the very principles of religious freedom on which our country was founded. Since when did God need Caesar’s money to do the Lord’s work?”

Other speakers slated to appear on the same panel as Johnson are Luis Huerta, Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy from Columbia University, and Thomas Ratliff, Vice Chair of the Texas State Board of Education.

The meeting is slated to begin at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 17th at the Texas State Capitol in room E2.036.  You can watch the meeting live at the Texas Legislature Online website at www.capitol.state.tx.us  and clicking on Video Broadcasts.

SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff on education savings grant vouchers

Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff released the following information regarding education savings account vouchers that are being proposed by several Texas organizations:

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT = GIGANTIC ENTITLEMENT PROGRAM

When I read about the proposed “education savings account” idea being proposed, I cannot help but think of one word – entitlement.  Is this an idea from President Obama?  Nope.  This is an idea from limited government conservative types.

Let’s be clear.  There are no “savings” in these accounts, because the recipient never would have paid enough taxes into the account in the first place.  There are only “donations” or “entitlements” in these accounts.  Let’s dig in to the details.

Texas spends around $8,500 per student per year in public schools.  In order for a family to pay enough taxes to fully pay that cost, the family would have to live in a $700,000 house or generate $125,000 in sales taxable transactions (or a combination of the two) PER YEAR, PER CHILD.  At these numbers, there are very, very few Texas families paying their own way.  So whose money are they saving?  Yours?  The elderly couple with no kids in school?  The local businesses in their hometown?  Yes, all of those are contributing to the “savings” account that this family can take wherever they want, apparently with no questions asked or accountability for the money.

So, how much is all of this going to cost?  The proponents of this plan want to make it available to families to spend on a variety of things, including private school tuition or homeschool curriculum.  There are currently 600,000 students who fall into those two categories alone.  Therefore, if the “savings account entitlement” is $6,000 per student, the total would be approximately $3.2 billion per year, or $6.4 billion per state budget.  Keep in mind, that NONE of these students get funding from the state budget today.

If that total figure isn’t shocking enough, let me explain how it will get even bigger.  What about the parents who, when they learn they can make an extra $500/mo. per month per kid, pull their kids out of public school and claim they will be home schooled – then simply keep the money without delivering the education.  It will happen. You can count on it. Those parents who are already disengaged from their child’s education would have no problem simply putting $500/mo. from each child’s education in their pocket.

This idea takes the word entitlement to a whole new level for Texas.  It is nothing more than a huge transfer of wealth with no way to control the price tag.

It should be very simple.  The Texas Constitution requires the state to provide a system of public free schools.  If a family chooses not to use it, they do not have the entitlement to take their neighbor’s money to the school of their choice.

Rev. Charles F. Johnson: Statement on Speaker Straus’ Interim Charge to Study School Finance

Texas State Speaker Joe Straus has issued interim charges to the House Appropriations and House Public Education committees to study and recommend critical reforms in our school funding system.  We applaud Speaker Straus in making these assignments.

The interim charges come immediately on the heels of the Texas Supreme Court ruling that our school finance system, while meeting a bare standard of constitutionality, is “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.”

“Ignoring some of the problems in our current system will only make them worse,” Speaker Straus cautioned.  “School finance reform never comes quickly or easily, which is why this work needs to continue sooner rather than later.”

We are grateful for Speaker Straus’ courage in hitting school finance head-on.  It is immoral for a state as prosperous as ours to parcel out provision for our children’s education with such parsimony.

Our great State of Texas is presently in a grand state of denial.  While it is common knowledge that our neighborhood and community schools are woefully underfunded, some of our leaders continue to deny it. They persist in a weird alternative universe of serial distraction, obsessing on one irrelevant issue after another while ignoring their sworn constitutional mandate to “make suitable provision for free public schools.”

The Biblical prophets long ago had a memorable phrase for this denial:  “They mislead my people saying ‘peace’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6.14, 8.11; Ezekiel 13.10, 13.16)

In a time when demagoguery so often masquerades as leadership, Speaker Joe Straus responsibly brings our attention back to the most pressing moral issue facing Texans today: the provision of God’s gift of quality education to all children.  We pray for him and all our legislative leaders as they formulate public education policy that makes good on the pledge “with justice for all.”

Pastors for Texas Children Executive Director Rev. Charles Foster Johnson on Today’s Supreme Court Decision

The Texas Supreme Court’s ruled today that the Texas public school funding system technically meets “minimum constitutional requirements”—a ruling belied by the direct professional experience and expert witness of hundreds of thousands of Texas educators.

The Court’s conclusion may be based on legal technicality, but the burden of this sophistry will be borne by our 5.3 million schoolchildren.

We hover near the bottom nationally in monetary support for our schools.  It is sinful for a society as rich as Texas—an economic “miracle,” as a recent governor put it—to make our schoolchildren eat the crumbs that fall from our state’s table of bounty.

Our Lord famously said, “To those whom much is given, much is required.”  But, the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas State Legislature have perversely revised that moral dictum:  “To those whom much is given, less is required.”

Of particular moral offense is the arrogance shown by certain state leaders whose cynical tactics seek to divert our attention away from the grave injustice of inadequate school finance.  Pastors for Texas Children will not fall for these ridiculous distractions.

80,000 new schoolchildren enter our public school system every year, in classes that are overfilled, with teachers that are underpaid, in schools that are underfunded.  Over 60% of our Texas schoolchildren are poor.  Our dedicated teachers work long hours at low pay to provide God’s gift of education for them while enduring demoralizing attacks from the very leaders constitutionally charged and Biblically sworn to support them.  This is the moral outrage of our day.

We recommit ourselves to holding our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, 31 State Senators and 150 State Representatives accountable for the “suitable provision of free public schools,” as our own Texas State Constitution mandates, as the American civil tradition establishes, and, most importantly, as the Biblical call to justice unambiguously announces.

Texas primary election results

electionresults2

Pastors for Texas Children have been much in prayer about the primary elections in our state yesterday. We congratulate all the candidates for their willingness to participate in our democratic system – a system that we believe is God-ordained– and we congratulate the winners of these democratically elected legislative races. We were privileged to join many other organizations in encouraging pastors and teachers, indeed all our citizens, to vote. Exercising our God-given freedom is a profound moral responsibility.

As we reflect prayerfully on the election yesterday, we are compelled to express our deep regret at the viciousness and cruelty that marked many of these races. Willful lying and unfounded character assassination, often funded by super-wealthy outside influences, have no place in just society. They are indecent and sinful. Texas can and must do better.

We look forward to close cooperation with all duly elected officials who are bound by constitutional oath “to make suitable provision for free public schools” for all Texas children.

For a full list of results go to:  http://elections.texastribune.org/2016/primary-election-results/

Pastors for Texas Children urges you to go vote!

Badge - 2008 electionDear Friends,

As I’m sure you all know, election season is upon us.  Early voting in Texas is taking place through Friday, February 26th and Election Day will be this coming Tuesday, March 1st .

Pastors for Texas Children would like to remind you to go vote for candidates that will support our neighborhood, public schools and the 5.2 million children that attend them.

With most of the races being determined in the primary elections in Texas, your vote is critical to ensuring that our public school children have what they need to be successful.

And would you kindly urge the teachers in your congregations to vote? We cannot imagine a better example for schoolchildren then to see their teacher proudly wear that sticker, “I’ve voted!” More information can be found at www.texaseducatorsvote.com

Again, we urge you to go vote this coming Tuesday, March 1st.  You can find out where to vote at:  http://www.votetexas.gov/voting/where/ .

God Bless You!

Texas Kids Can’t Wait issues legislative scorecard

KKW_Color_Logo_cmyk1Texas Kids Can’t Wait has just released their ratings on how legislators have voted in the last session on issues related to public schools.  See their information below:

Texas Kids Can’t Wait is releasing today its second Legislative Report Card. We feel strongly that all government should be accountable to the people for its actions, so accountability by public schools, as one major example, is meaningless unless, importantly, the Legislature, the Lt. Governor, and the Governor are held accountable for sound, evidence-based policies and for providing the necessary financial resources for the public schools to do their job.

If these leaders can enact laws providing for the closure of public schools that simply have low test scores, ignoring both the poverty of the homes of more than 60% of Texas school children, plus their continuing to inadequately and inequitably fund our schools, and, additionally, mandating bad practice, then it is the responsibility of the people to expose them, along with the consequences of their actions and inactions. On the other hand, those legislators who do strongly support public education and care about the outcomes of the five million children who attend public schools should be recognized, applauded, and supported.

– See more at: http://www.texaskidscantwait.org/media-center/#sthash.xlQOrJLL.dpuf

Nevada Supreme Court Will Review Voucher Program

By Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch-A Historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.

Diane Ravitch-A Historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.

“The Education Law Center reports that the Nevada Supreme Court will review a lower court decision that enjoined the state’s new voucher program. Nevada’s legislators enacted the most sweeping voucher program in the nation, despite the fact that the state constitution says unequivocally that public money appropriated by the legislature is to be used only for public schools. Now, we will learn whether conservatives are serious when they claim to believe in a “strict” interpretation of the federal and state constitutions. Even as conservatives celebrate the late Justice Antonin Scalia for his “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution and laws, conservatives in states like Nevada are twisting and ignoring their state constitution to destroy public education. The same thing happened in Indiana, where the state constitution was written to prevent public funding of religious schools. The court, dominated by conservatives, found a way around the clear words of the state constitution to allow the new voucher program to proceed. At the very least, they could call a referendum to change the state constitution, but they didn’t and they won’t. That might lead to a loss, as it has for every voucher referendum. Original language be damned.

VOUCHER CASE MOVES TO NEVADA SUPREME COURT

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has asked the State Supreme Court for expedited review of a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of Senate Bill 302, the State’s unlimited private school voucher law.

In response to the Attorney General’s request, the Nevada Supreme Court has scheduled the parties to file briefs by early April. The Supreme Court has deferred oral argument on the case until the Court has the opportunity to review the briefs.

The lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, was filed by five parents of public school children from across the state. The parents challenged the vouchers authorized by the law, called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which would be paid for by taking funds allocated by the Legislature for the public schools. The parents claim that ESAs, by diverting funding from public schools, will trigger cuts to essential programs and services and cause harm to their children and other children attending Nevada’s public schools.

In October 2015, the Plaintiff parents moved for a preliminary injunction to block State Treasurer Dan Schwartz from implementing the ESA law. The State Treasurer had set February 1, 2106, as the date to begin taking public school funding to pay for ESAs. The Treasurer has estimated that ESAs would result in a $17 million reduction in public school funding in 2016 alone, and that amount is expected to significantly increase in future years.

On January 11, 2016, Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court in Carson City ruled the Plaintiff parents demonstrated that ESAs likely violate two provisions of the Nevada Constitution.

Judge Wilson explained that the Nevada Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate funds for the operation of the public schools, which “must only be used to fund the operation of the public schools.” The Court continued that, if implemented, ESAs will mean “some amount of general funds appropriated to fund…the public schools will be diverted to fund” ESAs, and that this diversion of funds will reduce public school funding below the level deemed sufficient by the Legislature.

Judge Wilson also found that the parents “have [proven] that SB 302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2” [of the Nevada Constitution], and that ESAs will cause irreparable harm to public school children. Judge Wilson issued an injunction to prevent the State Treasurer from implementing the law.

While other states have enacted various types of voucher programs, Nevada is the first to directly take funding from public schools to pay for private schooling. Nevada’s ESA program also has no cap on the amount of funding that can be taken from the public schools, or any income limits on households that can qualify for a voucher.

The public school parents are represented pro bono by Education Law Center; Munger, Tolles & Olsen in Los Angeles; and Wolf Rifkin in Las Vegas. ELC is also a partner in Educate Nevada Now!, a campaign to improve educational opportunities for Nevada public school children, with support from the Rogers Foundation.”

To read more on Diane Ravitch and the work she is doing for our education, please visit her blog.