Pastors for Texas Children Become a Rising Voice Against School Vouchers
Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a multi-denominational network of about 2,000 church leaders around the state who work to support public schools, speaks to Baptist pastors in Waco this November. John Savage/Reporting Texas
By John Savage
For Reporting Texas
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.
Johnson, 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 public 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.
The organization’s mission is twofold: To advocate for public education with state lawmakers and to mobilize individual churches to support public schools by providing services such as student mentoring and teacher appreciation events.
Members have linked dozens of churches with public schools, met with more than 100 lawmakers since the organization’s inception in 2013, and published dozens of anti-school voucher editorials in newspapers across Texas.
The group is getting national attention: In recent months, it has been mentioned in Politico, the Washington Post and the widely read blog of Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush and a leader of the grassroots movement against school privatization.
In an October blog post, Ravitch called Pastors for Texas Children “one of the strongest, most consistent defenders of public schools.”
Pastors for Texas Children does not fit neatly into the predictable camps in the voucher debate, with liberal groups and public school teachers in opposition and with conservative and religious groups in support.
Michael Barba, associate director of public policy at the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, supports Patrick’s school-choice legislation and is hopeful about its prospects in 2017.
“Like the lieutenant governor, we want more flexibility in the system for students to go to the school of their choice — public, private, charter, intradistrict transfers or otherwise,” Barba said.
For more than two decades in the Legislature, an alliance of Democrats and rural Republicans has defeated voucher bills. But Johnson said Patrick’s unwavering support and the election of Donald Trump have emboldened voucher advocates. Trump has called public schools a “government-run education monopoly” and promised to use the “pulpit of the presidency” to fight for school vouchers across the country. He has nominated Betsy DeVos, a voucher-supporting billionaire with no public education experience, as secretary of education.
Patrick’s office did not reply to emails requesting comment, but he has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of “failing” public schools and Read more:The Gilmer Mirror - Pastors for Texas Children Become a Rising Voice Against School Vouchers