Public Funds Public Schools: Interview: Reverend Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children
The Reverend Charles Foster Johnson is a founder and executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a faith-based group that works to promote and advance public schools in Texas, a state where they are very much under attack. He recently sat for an interview with Jessica Levin, director of Public Funds Public Schools, talking about the successful work to fend off vouchers in Texas.
Rev. Johnson: I have been a Texas minister for over 30 years, and literally as long back as I can remember. You know, the voucher idea comes out of a reaction to public school racial integration. It was the idea of some market-based economists, who felt taxes for this provision of the public trust were not appropriate, and that individuals should be able to either keep those tax dollars or have those tax dollars diverted to their private schools, their homeschools, that we should shop on an open market for our educational “products” so to speak. Here we are, 50 years later, and it is an abysmal idea. It’s failed. We know when that happens profiteers will keep a lot of that money and only pass along a little bit of that money to the education of our children. On the other hand, if our public is holding educational institutional systems accountable, that is, we have a public accountability, transparency, and lots of our fellow citizens see how the money is spent, we will have a better chance of delivering a more fruitful educational product for our children. And this is why, after all these years, we are making astonishing successes in public education, and on the whole public schools exceed voucher schools, homeschools, even charter schools in delivering a quality educational product.
JL: And tell us more about what type of push for vouchers you saw in the Texas Legislature this year.
Rev. Johnson: So right out of the starting gate, the Legislature started in the middle of January with a provision in HB 3. It was a pandemic relief bill. It had a low number, which means it had a high priority. This was the Governor’s priority. This was the Speaker’s priority. Well, there was a little provision that if the public educational provision was not delivered in some district somewhere in a remote rural place, that child could enjoy a diversion of those public funds to have that educational opportunity provided in a private institution or nonpublic school.
We saw it, we smelled a rat immediately, we identified it, we got together and agreed, “Yup, this is a voucher.” We went to the chair of the committee, Dustin Burrows, a House member from Lubbock, and told him, “This is a voucher.” All his people, all his staff, himself, other House members said, “Nope, this is not a voucher,” and we’re going to keep it in the bill. Then we went to Mr. Burrow’s local community. I know everyone in Lubbock. I got on the phone, and I started calling ministers, city council people, city hall people, school board people in all the respective districts in Lubbock. Dustin Burrows’ phone rang off the hook, and then about two days later he called and said he’d like to meet with us. We went in, and it was a short meeting, about three minutes, and he said he just wanted to let us know that they had taken the voucher (now he’s calling it a voucher) out of HB 3. That’s the way it works. What you have to do is mobilize local leaders in the community. Later on there was SB 1716, which was a more pronounced voucher policy.