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 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

 

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!

Dr. Jimmie Chadwell, Supt. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD on the value of public schools

Recently, I noticed the following in a list of financial planning questions: “Do you want to give your grandchildren the benefit of a private school education?” I was baffled. What about the benefit of a public school education? Why would there be a bias that a non-public system is superior? Now I respect a family’s choice to send their children to any school that meets their children’s needs, but this question clearly (and falsely) implies a nationwide deficiency of public schools. Every choice we make has costs and benefits. The choice to attend public schools has distinct benefits that cannot be replicated with any other options.
Sadly, as public school educators, we must consider the current perception of public schools in our nation. When the vast majority of Americans have attended and flourished through the public school system, it seems absurd that we would need to endure a constant onslaught of criticism. The climate of trust that has existed for generations is eroding because of decades of abuse and criticism coupled with reductions in support. We hear some state and national leaders define our schools as “failing” and our educators as “deficient.” Those who have never taught in a classroom or even attended a public school are pushing to privatize and outsource our work. We are described as a governmental monopoly, government schools, and even socialists.
Most educators endure these ridiculous criticisms because educators are remarkably positive and, frankly, too busy doing the real work of meeting children’s needs to fight these absurd battles. If you listen to some of the ridiculous things being spouted at these government hearings, you would consider them nonsensical or worse. I believe the time has now passed that we can simply ignore these incorrect and grievous claims.
This week I spent a few days in Austin and, after meeting with education leaders from across the state, the sad reality was reaffirmed that we are in a new day in which we (like no educators before us) will have to convince others of the advantageous qualities of our education system. We must tell our story of opportunity, and achievement, and support, and improvement, and success because there are very vocal forces working directly and blatantly against us. So what are these benefits?
  1. We take all children without judgment regardless of who they are, what their demographics are, or their previous academic performance. Not only do we admit them, we keep them. We adopt them as our own and we don’t stop educating them. No matter the circumstances, the system keeps reaching out to support and to educate.
  2. Our educators are highly qualified and highly effective. The skills that are demonstrated every day in EMS classrooms should be broadcast for the world to see. Educators are better trained and more prepared now than any other time in our country’s history.
  3. We offer a broad continuum of high-quality academic courses (college, career and technology, AP, dual credit), a myriad of athletic and fine arts activities, and other extracurricular activities to develop the interests of every student.
  4. Our facilities are designed to support learning at all levels. We pride ourselves on not having any child in a portable classroom. We plan for growth and we manage our budget to support growing and evolving instructional needs. Our schools are built to higher building standards and offer some of the safest structures in our community. From top to bottom, inside and out, our facilities and resources offer what our students need to be successful.
  5. We are stronger through our diversity. We don’t look for opportunities to exclude, we include. We embrace these differences and celebrate our uniqueness. We are not afraid. Our hearts go out to those children who struggle financially or who are learning English for the first time, but such challenges just make us work harder to help them succeed. We do not allow those characteristics to define their ability to perform at the highest levels. We don’t over focus on what restrains them, but rather on what motivates them.
  6. We represent a public trust, a promise to our citizens and future generations. The Texas State Constitution, in Article 7, Section 1, states, “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.”
  7. In many areas, EMS included, we define the community. When people think of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw community, they think of our schools. Our history is rich and our foundations are solid. Our accountability is not primarily to the state and feds; we are accountable first to this community and to continuing the legacy that built who we are today.
  8. Some make the ridiculous conclusion that public school students must not perform well. This is the biggest fallacy of all. Our students are incredible. They do perform at high levels and they leave EMS schools and achieve in many different areas. From senators to professional athletes to Hollywood actresses, there are famous EMS students succeeding around this world. But equally, EMS graduates have filled important positions in industry, the medical field, engineering, the military, and of course in our classrooms. Many of these graduates come back to this area to raise their children. In some schools, we have 3-4 generations of EMS families. When I shake the hand of every graduate in this school district, I am inspired by what they will achieve.
In 1785, John Adams said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one-mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” So what happened? How do we go from a Founding Father of our great nation defining public education as our country’s cornerstone to today’s rhetoric of those who would dismantle and privatize? This has been happening for several decades and the question confounds me. While purporting the desire to help poor children, they would disrupt the very system that is saving them. And educators serve children under the ire of overt criticism, with fewer resources, and increased challenges. Why? Because we are here for the children. We are here to fulfill that public trust. Many of us feel called to this work. It is just what we do. We don’t have time to philosophize, class starts in 5 minutes.
I have to admit that I hesitated to write this, because you may consider this a very gloomy message from your superintendent. However, part of my job is to be a good steward of your trust and to not share the gravity of the very active and vocal attack on public education would be negligent. You need to know the truth and how important it is that we stand resilient as professional educators and share our message with strength and honor. Our schools may be criticized and our positions may be ridiculed, but we will not let that discourage us. Unlike the assumption by some that we fight for our schools because of a desire for self-preservation, we know in our hearts that we do this for each child we serve. After all, this is our community, these are our community public schools, and this is our legacy.
I believe the future of our democracy is dependent upon a quality public education system. Together we have the power to fight the negativity with the truth that public schools are the foundation and the answer for our future.
All the best,
Jim

For your own good, pay attention

By David Currie – Pastors for Texas Children Board Member

My favorite author, Frederick Buechner, has some memorable, thought-provoking quotes in his books. One of my favorites is:

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

What I take from Buechner’s words is to live fully, make wise decisions; in other words, pay attention to your life. Pay attention to the special moments that happen every day and to all that is happening in the world around you, even in politics.

We are starting a new year. We just experienced a divisive presidential election. My candidate lost. Yet life goes on.

See the entire article here ….

School ratings are a shallow attempt to grade a complex system

JANUARY 25, 2017  FROM TRIB TALK – A PUBLICATION OF THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

by Charles Luke – Associate Director of Pastors for Texas Children

During the first week back from Christmas, Texas schoolchildren, parents, teachers, administrators and communities were greeted with the news that many of them aren’t up to snuff. On the same day that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unfurled his already infamous “bathroom bill”, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its 2015-16 A-F Ratings, effectively splashing cold water all over Texas communities diligently engaged in educating the state’s children. Although officials say these are preliminary report cards, thousands of schools feel shortchanged.

Dr. Charles Luke is the Associate Director of Pastors for Texas Children

Dr. Charles Luke is the Associate Director of Pastors for Texas Children

The A-F rating system — patterned after the A-F grading system on students’ report cards — was ushered in by the Texas Legislature in 2015 and was touted as a way for parents and communities to have a clear, concise way to tell just how well or poorly their schools are actually doing.

Regardless of this claim, research reported by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and conducted by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University indicated that basing a letter grade almost exclusively on student test scores does not account for other factors that contribute to school performance, including factors outside of a teacher’s control. The researchers also found that A-F grades in Oklahoma did not lead to school improvement because they don’t explain what led to low performance and do nothing to build educational capacity.

Subsequent research by researchers at The Education Trust found that A-F systems actually mask low performance among certain sub-groups, hide high performance, and inhibit parental participation in low-performing schools.

One of the most compelling and as yet untold stories is what A-F will do to community development across Texas.

One of the most profound economic engines in Texas is the growth in property values and property taxes fueled by the steady influx of people from other states. A corporate-friendly state, Texas has reaped the benefits of new industry and rapid growth. All of this growth has led to the development of a strong residential real estate industry with steady and significant rises in the median home price over the last few years.

What happens to Texas communities when the quality of schools — a strong, locational motivator — is impugned by artificially low performance ratings? Highland Park ISD is an interesting example of this. The median home price in this area is just over $1.6 million. While the district received good grades on Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing Performance Gaps, they received a “C” on Postsecondary Readiness. Who wants to pay $1.6 million for a house only to put their child in a school that the rating system says provides weak preparation for college or the workforce? Realtors in Texas need to ask themselves why they are allowing an unproven system to be imposed that potentially will cost them millions of dollars in lost real estate commissions.

Whether the A-F release was pre-engineered to coincide with the lieutenant governor’s bathroom bill announcement or not, the timing couldn’t have been more symbolic. Patrick is an unyielding proponent of vouchers and the privatization of schools, something that A-F notoriously sets up by declaring large numbers of public schools as failures.

When the complex nature of educating large numbers of diverse children can be subverted with an oversimplified letter grade that says next to nothing, arguing for the need to replace that school becomes that much easier.

Finally, the A-F system is an insult to every child who works hard to learn and to every dedicated teacher who works hard to teach. For years, legislators have complained about organizations that rate their performance without understanding the complex nature of politics. Now, it looks like they are willing to do the same to our kids.

Texas: Pastors Stand Together Against Vouchers: They Join the Honor Roll!

From Diane Ravitch’s Blog – December 10, 2016

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson has organized strong resistance to the vouchers touted by the most powerful elected official in Texas, not the governor, but the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a former talk show host. Rev. Johnson is leader to Pastors for Texas Children, which has 2,000 members across the state. They are united in their opposition to vouchers and their support for public schools. Year after year, they have defeated vouchers in the legislature, and they are gearing up to fight them again. You can read more about his and his organization here.

I am happy to place Rev. Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children on the blog’s honor roll for their stalwart defense of public schools, of the children of Texas, of religious liberty, and of the principle of separation of church and state.

Read the entire blog article here …..

Pastors for Texas Children Become a Rising Voice Against School Vouchers

By John Savage
For Reporting Texas

“We’ve got a God-given responsibility to maintain and keep this public trust, to protect public schools,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson bellowed at several dozen pastors, snapping them to attention as they ate breakfast.

img_1826Johnson, 59, is the Fort Worth-based executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a network of about 2,000 church leaders around the state who work to support pubic schools.

Johnson and his group have emerged as chief adversaries of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Patrick champions a breed of education reform forged around vouchers — which steer money from public schools to parents to pay private school tuition.

“The lieutenant governor said, a couple of weeks ago, he’ll keep bringing it up until it passes,” Foster told the pastors, who were gathered for a meeting of Texas Baptists Committed in Waco. “It’s up to us to stop him.”

In his baritone southern drawl, Johnson told the pastors that vouchers siphon funds from schools in low-income neighborhoods and violate the separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment. School vouchers contradict God’s law of religious liberty, he said, by providing government support for religion.

Read entire article here …..