Our two congregations have been partners for forty-five years. We’ve shared joint worship services, joint vacation Bible schools, joint mission projects, prayed together, eaten together, attended funerals together, and learned to just be together. Many of our members have become friends and no small part of our members’ friendship has been because so many of them are now or have been part of our local public schools as teachers, administrators, staff, and occasionally school board members. Additionally, we’ve been in PTA/PTO together, done school fundraisers, and supported school events, not to mention our own children who have been or are now students in the schools. In fact, a major reason our two congregations partnered forty-five years ago was that we all found ourselves on the same side in the fight to integrate the Nacogdoches Independent School District, which was racially segregated at the time. We’ve worked hard for a long time to have good local public schools for all of our children, and when we say “all of our children” we mean all of the children of Nacogdoches.
So it is with dismay that we have read of two developments in Austin with the state Legislature concerning our public schools. First, by a vote of 18-12, the Texas Senate on April 20 passed SB4, a bill providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. In other words, a private school voucher. While we have nothing against private schools, most of which are religiously based, we simply believe that our public money should be for our public schools and private schools should provide their own money. Private school vouchers are one more way of robbing our public schools, which are committed to the education of all of our children in order to fund privately run schools, which by their very nature can only provide education for some children.
We commend our own Sen. Robert Nichols for his courage and integrity in standing fast in support of our public schools and voting against SB4. And we know we can rely on our own Rep. Travis Clardy in the House because of his long history of supporting public education.
The second disappointing development to come out of Austin is the letter issued by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “grassroots” advisory board calling our public school classrooms, especially Pre-K education, “a Godless environment.” We pastors consider this statement an insult to our public school teachers, administrators, and staff. We have teachers who pray every morning for each and every student before going to school long before classes begin, work hard during the day, and stay into the evening after class taking up tickets at extracurricular events or judging UIL or helping with school trips. Then they go home to their own families, but before bed stay up grading and preparing for the next day’s classes. They do all of this, not for the pay (which is inadequate) or for the recognition (which is overlooked) but because they feel called by God to teach all of our children. To portray their classrooms as a “Godless environment” demonstrates an ignorance of what really goes on with our teachers and classrooms and arrogance on the part of the Lt. Governor’s office to think they know the mind of God and the lives of teachers. Ignorance and arrogance is a bad combination for anyone, but it is especially dangerous in the higher offices of our state government.
Our teachers and public schools deserve better. Instead of less money for our schools, which is what vouchers do, they should be receiving increased funding and support. And instead of insults, they deserve state officials who are knowledgeable about public schools and who are devoted to their constitutionally mandated job “to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools” (Texas Constitution, Article 7, Section 1).
We join with other pastors from around the state who are a part of Pastors For Texas Children to encourage more involvement in our local schools. Ask teachers and administrators how you can volunteer. Tutor a child, show up, join the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), help provide backpacks and coats for children without, and pray. Pray for our children and pray for our teachers and administrators and staff, who are serving our children. All of them.
Jesus said, “Even as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
Our teachers serve “the least of these” every day. Rather than a “Godless environment” perhaps our schools are holy ground.
The Rev. Donald Lacey is pastor at Zion Hill First Baptist Church and the Rev. Kyle Childress is pastor at Austin Heights Baptist Church.