A politician can’t tell a teacher how much he loves him or her without giving that classroom the money it needs to teach its children, a Fort Worth pastor said Thursday.
Charles Foster Johnson’s words about state senators and and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were just as deliberate.
“We must elect a different Texas Senate in 2018. We must elect a Senate that believes in public education as a foundation of our social and civil order,” Johnson said while speaking with more than 30 parents, school superintendents, trustees, city leaders and teachers at Pine Tree Independent School District.
“The Texas Senate does not believe in public education for all Texas children,” he said. “The Texas House does.”
Johnson is executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a statewide advocacy group. Several East Texans concerned about public education invited Johnson to speak.
“I’m here to listen to a viewpoint that supports teachers and supports public education,” said Pine Tree Superintendent T.J. Farler.
Over just more than a decade, the state’s share of funding education has plummeted from more than 60 percent to below 38 percent, she said.
Pine Tree school trustee Jim Cerrato said teachers are overwhelmed with mandates and other requirements not directly tied to classroom teaching. Coupled with dwindling state aid and salaries that lag other states, Texas is deep into a teacher shortage.
“I wish our state legislators would spend more time talking and listening to people who are actually in the trenches at this level and less time listening to whoever is telling them what they’re supposed to be doing,” Cerrato said, “because this has really not been a very productive session, and I don’t believe they’ve spent any time at all back here with the folks that are trying to fight these battles.”
Farler clarified that state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, spent many hours, visits and phone calls communicating with East Texas superintendents about public education issues, but, “Our Senate side, not a word.”
Patrick and other state legislators have no intention of adequately funding public education as they try to make school vouchers a more appealing option, Johnson said.
He mentioned House Bill 21 among his evidence. The House proposed at least $1.8 billion in additional funding for public schools, but it passed the Senate with only about $563 million — much of it for retired teacher health benefits.
Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill.
“The Texas Senate’s original budget was this,” Johnson said, making an “O” with his right hand. “Zero. And ultimately, fast forward to the end of the special session. Basically the Senate said if you’re not going to give us vouchers, we’re not going to give you funding. In other words, we’re going to starve your schools until you cave in and let us privatize them. Let us make money off your children. Let our donors — out-of-state donors — make money off your Longview kids, and the House said no, and that’s the stalemate.”
Johnson said Patrick and Abbott “are wrong.”
“We already have school choice. Parents choose their neighborhood schools, help those schools, wrap their arms of love and care and involvement around those schools,” he said. “The House and Pastors for Texas Children are never, ever going to agree to any plan that diverts that public money to underwrite the private education of affluent kids. We will never agree to that.”
Cerrato said it will take more people outside the political spectrum — including faith-based, community-focused or public education advocates — to bend lawmakers’ ears.
Added Farler, “The fact that somebody is willing to have that conversation with us, other parents and community members is exciting to me.”