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.”

Baptist Preacher’s Crusade Against ‘Sinful’ School Vouchers Steps on Texas GOP Leaders’ Toes

By Robert T. Garrett January 12,2018 – DALLAS NEWS

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers propos​al ​by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,”​ Fort Worth minister Charlie​ Johnson has been driving ​feverishly ​around the state before the March 6 primary.

At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message​ on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars ​to help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.

Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.

As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it.”

While critics have accused Johnson of defending tone-deaf school district administrators and teacher unions, which they say are indifferent about low-performing schools, his group Pastors for Texas Children offers an alternative. Beginning in inner-city Dallas schools, the group has begun matching churches with troubled campuses. Church members will try to help each “adopted” school’s leaders make improvements, through volunteer tutoring and other support.

Just as urgently, Johnson is rallying Texas teachers and other school employees who haven’t been voting. He wants them to turn out in March and defend House Republicans who’ve squelched Senate-passed “school choice” bills.

Speaker Joe Straus and a top lieutenant, Corsicana Republican Rep. Byron Cook, have stoutly defended public schools’ interests but are retiring. In GOP primary contests for theirs and other selected seats in the Legislature, Johnson is urging educators, church members and other voters to back candidates who support traditional public schools and oppose vouchers.

In the protracted, eight-year battle over the Texas House, Johnson and his group are a new and largely untested force. They’re clearly — and unabashedly — on the side of Straus’ leadership team. At stake in the fight is control of the House, the last bastion of moderation in state politics.

Although it’s unclear how much influence Johnson and his group will wield, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said their get-out-the-vote push is desperately needed if moderate-conservative Republicans are to survive in Texas.

“It’s definitely the type of thing that the centrist-conservative wing needs, because one thing that they’ve been lacking over the past few cycles is enthusiasm and mobilization efforts by their supporters,” he said. “We’ve seen a rise of the movement conservatives, based in part on this enthusiasm gap.” Greater fervor among their backers has helped tea party adherents overcome financial disadvantage, Jones noted.

In March 2016, according to some political experts, Johnson and Pastors for Texas Children were pivotal in helping to rescue a key Straus ally from defeat. By helping ramp up teacher turnout in Palestine, they assisted Cook, who heads the powerful State Affairs Committee, in his 225-vote squeaker over a candidate backed by anti-Straus forces leader Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Rallying voters

Johnson, an Alabama native who for 37 years has led Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky and Texas, is expanding his efforts this cycle.

Though he declined to discuss specifics, he said in an interview that he’ll try to rally pastors, their parishioners and educators in about “a half-dozen” House GOP primaries and perhaps in three Republican nominating battles for Senate seats.

He’s attracting attention — not all of it welcome.

The Texas Freedom Caucus, a dozen Straus-bashing, Patrick-admiring House conservatives, has mocked and sharply criticized Johnson in social media. In email blasts and through his coterie of movement conservative activists, so has Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, a group largely funded by Midland oilman Tim Dunn.

Determined to not have another speaker in the Straus mold, they and key Patrick allies in the Senate have protested election-related activities in recent weeks by several groups resisting vouchers, not just Johnson’s. The conservative lawmakers and Empower Texans have suggested some superintendents are misusing district resources.

In an interview, Sullivan said some of the groups such as Johnson’s may be misusing their ability to generate tax-deductible donations with impermissible political activity.

Johnson, though, said, “We’re well within the boundaries of our nonprofit status.”

In October, Empower Texans did a 13-minute video “exposé” about two public meetings Johnson conducted in Granbury. Since then, it’s been deer season — and he, the targeted buck.

Pastors for Texas Children “is a pro-abortion heretic and a fraud,” tweeted Deer Park GOP Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Freedom Caucus member. On Facebook, Sullivan called Johnson “Pastor Creepo.”

In two more recent email blasts, he said Johnson “was kicked out of his denomination for his liberal views” and runs a “fake ‘pastor’ group” that’s a “radical leftist organization.” Bedford Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland, another Freedom Caucus member, replied to Johnson on Twitter, “You don’t care one bit about children. You care only about $$$ and perpetuating a broken system. Fraud.”

Johnson said his group takes no position on abortion. Because Baptist congregations are autonomous, Sullivan’s assertion that he was “kicked out” of the denomination “is not theologically possible,” he said

“These [Empower Texans] folks … have moved so far to the extreme right, that all the rest of the traditional Texas church folk appear ‘liberal’ to them,” he said. “They throw this word around indiscriminately because it fires up the sliver of the citizenry that comprises their support.”

Johnson said he and like-minded clergy members will keep pointing out that the Legislature is financially starving the schools. It’s continually lowering the state’s share of the tab for the broad dissemination of knowledge to the masses of citizens that the state Constitution requires, he said.

Funding sources

A few years ago, Johnson received $25,000 in startup funding for his group from an adamant opponent of school vouchers, Charles Butt of the San Antonio-based H-E-B grocery empire.

Since then, Johnson said, Pastors for Texas Children has grown into a self-supporting movement of concerned citizens and clergy who are eager to argue for the embattled school district employees whom Sullivan and Freedom Caucus members have dismissed as “educrats.”

“What that classroom teacher is doing is inherently spiritual,” he said. “In accepting a child unconditionally [and] going the extra mile in pedagogy, they are performing a spiritual act.”

According to Johnson and statements filed with the IRS, Pastors for Texas Children has an annual budget of about $300,000. Johnson took a $61,000 salary in 2014 but none the following year. The group received a filing extension for 2016.

Major contributors include the Meadows Foundation of Dallas, $60,000; Fort Worth school architect Christopher Huckabee, $50,000; former Eanes school district board president Beau Ross of Austin, who died last year, and wife Kathryn, $40,000; Butt’s policy group Raise Your Hand Texas, $35,000; and the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation of San Antonio, $30,000.

Late last year, Meadows awarded the group $70,000 to connect 100 Dallas churches to 20 of the Dallas school district’s highest-needs campuses.

First United Methodist Church Dallas is a leading participant in the “One+One” project.

“Charlie is a mentor of mine and a cheerleader,” said senior pastor Andy Stoker. While Stoker’s Methodist congregation already had adopted the J.J. Rhoads Learning Center, Johnson’s appearance at a summer speaker series at the church last summer helped galvanize members, Stoker recounted.

“It was kind of a watershed moment for our lay people to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we are making a difference,’” he said.

Though it’s unusual for a Texas Southern Baptist leader to jump into controversies such as vouchers, Johnson does it with relish. While some critics imply he’s a failed preacher, he insisted he’s just going deeper into the socially provocative teachings of Jesus.

Johnson’s background

Though Johnson earlier was pastor of 6,000-member Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio and 2,000-member Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, the Bread Fellowship he launched in 2010 is different. Starting with six people in a Bible study, it has grown to 100 “partners.” Modeling itself after the early Christian church described in the New Testament, it doesn’t own property. In three separate groups, it meets in small, borrowed spaces in various Fort Worth neighborhoods.

Bread Fellowship has ties to more theologically moderate groups that were spun off the Southern Baptist Convention, as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was swayed in recent decades by pastors and churches who argued that the Bible is “inerrant” — that is, literally true. Johnson’s flock has formed partnerships with the Fort Worth school district’s De Zavala Elementary and Metro Opportunity High.

Johnson, 60, considers his induction a decade ago into the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Atlanta’s Morehouse College the high point of his career. He said his pastoral mentor was the late John Claypool, who served at Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist in the 1970s.

Johnson, who enjoys hunting on his Eastland County ranch, isn’t shy about talking of sin and personal salvation, as well as social betterment.

That may help explain why in the past five years, his run-ins at the Texas Capitol with top vouchers proponents have become the stuff of legend. Both involved fellow Baptists — Lt. Gov. Patrick, then a Houston senator, and Houston GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Both boosted Johnson’s visibility, according to longtime education lobbyists.

At a 2016 legislative hearing, Johnson lit into a voucher-type, tax credit scholarship proposal. Bohac struck back. He ridiculed Johnson’s tendency to pause dramatically as he speaks in a deep bass. Bohac complained that Johnson ignored his frustration as a father of children who, if he lacked money, would be trapped in “a failing public school.” Johnson urged him to have his church help turn that school around. Bohac declined to comment this week about Johnson.

At a similar hearing three years earlier, Patrick rebuked Johnson for calling the envisioned private-school scholarships “a tax loophole.” They were to be donated by businesses in return for a write-off on state taxes. The bill didn’t pass — and remains blocked by Straus’ House.

This week, Patrick spokesmen declined to discuss Johnson. As Patrick and Johnson concluded their exchange in 2013, Patrick said many Baptists agree with him about the private-school subsidies.

“I think God would consider it tithing, which we’re required to do,” he said.

Johnson shot back, “I’m not trying to speak on behalf of God, just the Baptists.”

Put Down Party and Take Up Jesus

 January 10, 2018 – Knox TN Today

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson – Executive Director of PTC

Here in the Bible Belt we know there is power in the word. And Charles Foster Johnson is the kind of preacher who can make you want to holler.

The guest speaker at last week’s organizational meeting of Pastors for Tennessee Children, he’s an anomaly in an era where education reform is big business and conservative politicians are trying to channel taxpayer dollars away from public education, often with the blessing of pastors looking to start their own schools.

“We are in this strange season of making commodities of our children,” Johnson said.

This longtime Baptist minister is the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a pro-public education non-profit that has grown powerful enough to defeat school voucher bills in the Texas Legislature for two successive years. Johnson’s Knoxville visit was sponsored by SOCM and the Tennessee Public Education Coalition, supported by SPEAK (Students, Parents and Educators Across Knox County) and hosted by the Church of the Savior.

He came to Knoxville to share his message with a group of local ministers and faith workers – Baptist, United Methodist, Episcopalian, United Church Christ, Unitarian, Metropolitan Community Church – and convince them that they can become more effective advocates for children by working to strengthen public education.

“Pastors stand before congregations and congregations vote,” he said. “There’s a power in the moral message … we make social justice warriors out of fundamentalist Baptist preachers – we’re constitutional conservatives – and the constitution of the state of Texas requires the funding of public schools.”

But he warned that these organizations, if they are to be successful, must be inclusive, because privatization isn’t a partisan issue. “If the privatizers were only Republicans, we’d be in better shape. Let’s put down party and take up Jesus.”

Johnson said the first step in his own journey was to visit the school closest to the church he was pastoring in Fort Worth, and to ask the principal what he could do for her.

“Make an appointment with a principal and ask, ‘How can I help you?’”

He convinced her of his sincerity when he drove up to the schoolhouse door with a truckload of supplies.

SPEAK facilitator Dave Gorman, a longtime teacher in Knox County Schools, said he started hearing about Johnson a year or so ago, and immediately got interested in learning more.

“He’s doing great work and having great success, spreading the word that vouchers are an assault on public education,” Gorman said. “There’s a constitutional provision to provide free public education, and he believes that to do anything other than that is sinful. He’s had great success with a crowd you’d think might have been clamoring for vouchers. Travis Donoho (with SOCM) had the idea of bringing him here, and Pastor Johnson is interested in exporting his ideas.”

Pro-privatization leaders in Nashville have announced that they won’t be sponsoring a voucher bill this session, although several attendees at last week’s meeting expressed skepticism.

Hear his message here.

Raising Their Voices for Public Education

Meredith Shamburger for LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL – December 27, 2017

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

This was the year I witnessed people reclaiming their voices.

How else would you describe hundreds and hundreds of East Texas teachers at the Gregg County Courthouse on a sweltering July day to rally against what they see as a fundamental lack of respect from state lawmakers for educators and public education?

Or the handful of Carthage ISD residents who spent the morning on the first day of school to protest districtwide budget and personnel cuts? Or how about the group of parents and educators who attended a community meeting featuring public education advocate Charles Foster Johnson and Texas Pastors for Children?

This seems like the year that people of all stripes decided it was time to come together and make some noise — and hopefully bring about meaningful change. I would say it worked.

Retired Gladewater teacher Suzanne Bardwell’s July protest at the courthouse focused on rising health care costs, jeopardized pension plans, a push for school vouchers and decreases in school funding at the state level, especially after this year’s general legislative session.

“We’ve got to begin using our teacher voices, people,” Bardwell told the crowd. “We’ve got to stand together for ourselves. We’ve got to stand for the retirees, and we’ve got to stand for teachers and the public school employees in the system right now.”

If you don’t think the sight of hundreds of angry teachers had an impact on the issues they were talking about, just ask state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston. He told a group of superintendents and administrators in September that the rally had an effect in Austin.

“July 12, we had that rally (in Longview),” VanDeaver said. “You want to know what happened on July 13? The lieutenant governor announced in a press conference that school funding, retired teachers would be a priority in the special session. The governor placed those items on call for the special session.”

I’m always glad when I get to cover a protest. It means people are getting involved in their community, and they’re (usually) trying to make things better. Seeing hundreds of people taking an active interest in government this year has been inspiring.

But VanDeaver, Bardwell and I share the same concern: People have to vote, too. Regardless of the political issue at hand or which side of the aisle you’re on, too many people don’t bother to cast ballots.

Voting is the other way you let your elected officials know how you feel. It’s how you make sure your representatives do, in fact, represent you. And there are too many people in East Texas who are not voting in any election, whether it’s a presidential election or to decide a school board representative.

Next year, I hope, is the year people reclaim their vote.

Read the entire article here…

A Christmas Message from Rev. Charles F. Johnson

As we enter this most holy season of the year, we turn our hearts in humble gratitude to God for the mission and ministry God is giving us through Pastors for Texas Children.  It is remarkable what God has allowed us to accomplish together in four short years.

Because of you and your witness, faith leaders and educators are banding together all over Texas to stand firm for public education as a provision of God’s Common Good.

Not only do we have 2000 pastors and congregational leaders here in Texas, but we are also expanding our mission to other states. Pastors for Oklahoma Kids is up and running and conducting a successful mission on behalf of public schools there. We have organizational meetings happening now in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and robust conversations with leaders in Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The most significant part of our witness is the actual compassionate assistance and help we are able to provide for neighborhood and community public schools. Countless thousands of churches are now joining in creative partnership in school improvement projects and one-on-one child mentoring and tutoring. Children are growing and learning. Teachers are empowered and encouraged. Lives are being touched and changed.

In short, God’s Word of Love is becoming fleshed out.

We were able to bring our witness to bear in grassroots communities all over Texas to block private school vouchers once again in the Texas Legislature. We have become a trusted moral voice in Austin.

Influential media such as the Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, Austin American Statesmen, NPR, Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle, and Baptist Standard are taking note of our work.

Our own social media messaging has gained a large following this past year, mobilizing and encouraging a strong pro-public education message, as well as underscoring our bedrock conviction for religious liberty and church/state separation.

Many education advocacy groups are recognizing our work and witness together. We spoke at the annual meetings of Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of Community Schools, and many other gatherings of influential educators. On your behalf, we were privileged to accept the “Friend of the Year” award from Friends of Texas Public Schools.

Denominational groups such as the Baptist General Convention of Texas that birthed us, the United Methodist Church, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are initiating mission partnerships with PTC.

Furthermore, national organizations such as the wonderful Network for Public Education and the Center for American Progress have recognized our work and created platforms for our message. National public education advocates such as Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch, and Randi Weingarten have become good friends and colleagues to us.

There is much work yet to do. But, for now, as we slow down and enjoy our families and congregations this Christmas, we pause and give thanks.

And we remember that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

God’s peace to you all!

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

Rev. Charles F. Johnson receives Friend of the Year Award

Charles Johnson and Charlotte Moore-1On December 6, 2017 the Executive Director of Pastors for Texas Children, Rev. Charles Foster Johnson was awarded the Friend of the Year Award from Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS). FOTPS is a statewide organization that points out and promotes the value of our Texas public schools. The Friend of the Year Award is their highest honor. Johnson received the award for his diligent and unwavering support of our Texas neighborhood public schools and over 5.3 million schoolchildren.

You can see a video about the award and about Rev. Johnson’s work by clicking here…

Churches offer entry point for Waco ISD community support

Shelly Conlon for WACO TRIBUNE – December 16, 2017

Each Tuesday, Pastor Bob Rainey, “Mr. Bob” to Kendrick Elementary School kindergartners and teachers, spends about an hour and a half pulling a few students out of class, one by one.

He sits beside them in a small chair in the middle of a long school hallway and turns page after page, mentoring the students as they sift through story after story together.

“My favorite part is just getting to talk to them. Some have more personality than others, and some just talk and talk and talk. Some don’t want to go back in for whatever reason, but it’s fun to talk to them,” said Rainey, who leads the Central United Methodist Church down the road from the campus. “But it’s all about relationships anyway. Quite frankly, that’s what Christianity is at its heart, at its base. We believe that and we’re glad to have a relationship with the school when they need something.”

The moment is fleeting with children’s books taking only a few minutes to finish, but Rainey’s brief reading sessions are part of a wider effort.

In the Bible Belt of Texas, churches are providing an entry point for community support for public schools.

Read entire article by clicking here . . .

John Kuhn Video

2Pastors for Texas Children invites you to view and share via social media and email this powerful video featuring Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent John Kuhn about the need for adequate funding for public schools.

See the video at

We are trying to get 1,000,000 views of this video so please share with everyone you know!