Voucher bills direct taxpayers’ dollars to private schools. The Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, founder of Pastors for Texas Children, believes they are unconstitutional, violate religious liberty, drain the public coffers and do not work.
The last time he came to Knoxville, Johnson had fought off school voucher bills in the Texas legislature for two successive years. This time around, the charismatic Baptist preacher from Fort Worth has added another victory to his tally, and he’s taking a four-day swing around Tennessee to recruit religious leaders to do the same here.
“Advocacy organizing of faith leaders” is the term he uses. He met with ministers in Chattanooga on Tuesday, hit the Church of the Savior in Knoxville on Wednesday (as the guest of CWA/SOCM organizer Travis Donaho) and will be spreading the gospel of public education in Nashville and Memphis, as well.
School privatization has gained a strong foothold in Memphis, with its large minority population and high poverty rate, and will be the toughest nut to crack, Johnson said.
“It’s the most divided place, according to economics, and the privatizers pounce. They can smell out those places instinctively and they pounce with every one of Betsy DeVos’s millions of dollars. Do not believe them when they say they’re providing education opportunities for children. No, they’re not. They’re taking God’s common good money and subsidizing the education of a few select children. It is a program that has been tried and found miserably wanting.”
Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of the state of Tennessee says, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” It gives no authority to provide support for private or religious schools.
Johnson cites a growing body of data that exposes school vouchers as a failed experiment and said his organization is broadening its focus to oppose charter schools as well as vouchers.
He said his group’s success has been aided by a coalition of urban and rural pastors who have different theological beliefs, but are united in the belief that there is a constitutional covenant to provide for public education. He said that even a handful of clergy from different segments of their communities could have a powerful effect on legislators.
This, he said, will require a lot of cooperation and understanding.
“It’s going to take some of you liberals swallowing hard,” he said. “And a little bit of indignation helps, too.”
To see a summary of Johnson’s Chattanooga meeting:
To see a video of Johnson’s Friends of Texas Public Schools Award presentation last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXUSBMurW48