Statement from Executive Director Rev. Charles Foster Johnson on SB 4

z818By a vote of 18-12, the Texas Senate today passed SB4, a bill providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools.  In plain terms, a private school voucher.

In one piece of spectacularly bad legislation, the Senate managed the following abdications of its historic role to safeguard public education for all children:

First, SB4 diverts public money to religious schools, which violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which expressly prohibits the establishment of religion.

Second, SB4 allows a reduction in the public treasury of funds that will be diverted to private schools.

Third, SB4 channels those public monies to private schools with no accountability or oversight about how those monies will be spent, giving them permission to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, and special needs.

Fourth, SB4 creates a second parallel private system of education, while the Senate continues to neglect the lawful, public system.

Fifth,  SB4 violates the Texas Constitution, Article 7, Section 1 which says, “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.”

The very representatives of the people of Texas sworn by Bible oath before God to uphold the Constitution of the State of Texas voted overwhelmingly today to abdicate that oath by doing what no legislature in Texas has ever before done:  provide private school vouchers with public school money.  They did so while the State of Texas is once again unlawfully underfunding our neighborhood and community schools.  Our State benefits from the good fortune of a robust Texas economy while we hover near the bottom of our nation in per pupil spending.  In short, we continue to feast at the table of bounty while our children subsist on crumbs falling from that table.

We were told repeatedly by Senate members who voted for this bill that they did so only under great duress, for a self-confessed bad policy, contrary to the will of their constituents.  We are not naïve to feel that this kind of legislative manipulation can and must end.

Education is a gift from God accorded to all persons by virtue of their birth.  It is a core component of the common good holding civil society together.  We pray the Texas House of Representatives will find the courage lost on the Texas Senate to defeat this bad bill, and uphold their constitutional duty before God to defend, protect, and extend the benefit of public education to all the children of our great state.