A sea of red, blue and purple shirts enveloped the Texas Capitol steps on Monday, March 11, as music from a public school band greeted the energized crowd.
Teachers, administrators and public school advocates gathered to urge lawmakers to pass legislation increasing education funding in the Lone Star State, which currently is 20 percent lower than 2008 levels (when adjusted for inflation).
Signs reading “Fund Our Schools” and “Fighting for Our Students” were widespread; a few other messages said “#RedforEd” and “Teachers Just Want to Have Funds.”
Between songs, a few vocal participants led chants that included, “We need teachers. We need books. We need the money that Texas took!” and “Teachers and families must unite. Education is a human right!”
Among those gathered were leaders and supporters of Pastors for Texas Children (PTC), a faith-based nonprofit launched in 2013 by Charles Foster Johnson, a longtime Texas pastor and EthicsDaily.com’s Baptist of the Year for 2018.
John D. Ogletree Jr. – a PTC board member who is pastor of First Metropolitan Church in Houston and president of the school board for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District – spoke on behalf of PTC, offering brief remarks and a prayer to commence the rally.
“I’m here on behalf of Charles Foster Johnson and the Pastors for Texas Children, and we have a sign that says, ‘We stand with the teachers!’” he began, drawing cheers from the crowd.
“You plant seeds of hope in our children. You plant these seeds no matter the social-economic background, no matter the race, creed or color, no matter the dysfunction that they’ve come from in their homes, no matter whether they have limited abilities, physically or emotionally or intellectually, you still do the job and plant seeds of hope,” Ogletree said.
Praising educators for doing this important work despite low salaries and a lack of sufficient funding, he urged them “to keep hope alive. … undeterred by the criticism and the challenges that you face.”
“We urge you to remain diligent, remain patient, but whatever you do, remain confident because we will win this fight,” Ogletree said. “I’m here to tell you that the seeds of hope that you plant will one day produce a harvest of hope that we’ll see all across this state from the children that you educate. So, stand firm, and Pastors for Texas Children are behind you.”
PTC held a pre-rally gathering at First Baptist Church of Austin, located a few blocks from the Capitol, sharing briefly about PTC’s work and offering information about the education-related legislation under consideration.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, spoke about why a newly proposed bill in the Texas legislature that would fund chaplains in public schools and charter schools is problematic.
“Religious indoctrination is best left to our faith communities, to our families, to our churches. We don’t trust the state to be teaching children religion,” she said. “We don’t have government-sponsored religious exercise in schools. That is a very common-sense line to draw that serves religion well.”
Tyler addressed claims by the bill’s author and its supporters that they aren’t seeking chaplains for religious exercise but see them as aiding in stress management.
“There is a much better way to help children manage stress, and that is actually to fund school counselors – people who are trained to actually serve children in this way,” she said.
Charles Luke, a former educator who serves as a PTC co-director, shared about House Bill 3, a proposal under consideration that would result in a net increase in education funding of around $6.3 billion.
While expressing concerns about a few details in the legislation, Luke called it “a good starting place” and urged those gathered to encourage their legislators to support the bill due to the positive impact additional funds would have on public schools across the state.
A statement on House Bill 3 published by PTC praised the proposal for providing “funding that is not contingent upon a child’s test performance, but rather simply fulfills our constitutional duty to ‘make suitable provision for public free schools.'”