Any time you are quoted on Twitter, you have to brace yourself for the subsequent comments. Especially if Pastors for Children is the one quoting you.
Their Twitter account is a favorite of trolls (education reformers, neo-libertarians and Christian nationalists) who believe that God is not in the public schools and the only way forward is to tear it all down.
So, I knew there would be pushback when I said this, and it was referenced in a tweet: “If you can, send your children to public schools … because it’s not just about my kids, it’s about what’s good for all kids.”
The replies were predictable and entertaining, although plenty were also disturbing.
Some comments satirically quoted what Jesus definitely did not ever say, like: “‘Let Romans indoctrinate your children.’ – Jesus.” Or, “‘Send your kids to government schools so they will worship the state.’ – Jesus.”
These don’t bother me. Their absurdity speaks louder than any rebuttal would. But there were two Twitter comments that I do want to address.
This one, although asked in the manner of how the Pharisees questioned Jesus, warrants an honest reply: “What is your spiritual justification for this?”
Without knowing exactly to what this question refers, I’m going to assume it’s the claim that as Christians, we should send our children to public school.
Theologically, I believe that God loves every child equally and abundantly. We have denied some children their share of this abundant life by hoarding privileges like education.
If I really believe, and I do, that God loves other peoples’ children the same way that God loves my children and wants the same abundance for their lives, then I should make sure my desire for my children’s success doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s children.
Now, how could where I send my kids to school ever affect another child’s success or opportunity?
Unfortunately, at least in Texas, public schools are paid for by property taxes and distributed largely by something called average daily attendance funding. So, if you live in a neighborhood with lower property tax rates and lower cost of housing, that school will receive a smaller share of the public education dollars from the state.
Now, there are work-arounds to this, called recapture (a.k.a Robin Hood). But there are many inequities that haven’t been addressed in our funding system, and it’s simply obvious to anyone driving around that the wealthier the neighborhood is, the nicer the school is.
If that school is lower-income, lower-performing or simply hasn’t had a renovation bond passed on their behalf in a few decades, then it’s likelier that families who are zoned there and can opt out will do so.
Because schools receive a certain number of dollars per child counted present each day (or an average of the days), if your child isn’t counted there, then the school is missing out on that money. And if, instead, your child is attending a different public or charter school, that money goes with them.
It’s especially tough for schools who see a mass exodus of students across a few years, like when a shiny new charter school opens nearby. The neighborhood public school might lose a few students from each of their classrooms, but not enough to consolidate classes or reduce any overhead costs.
Essentially, their income is reduced while their expenses stay the same, and they are financially pinched. When a school is financially pinched, it has to cut enrichment programming, the same programs the new charter schools often advertise — like fine arts, gardening or STEM — thereby lowering the quality of that schools’ education.
So, yes, it really does matter to other children which school you choose.
Let’s say you are now with me in supporting our neighborhood public schools. That brings me to the next tweet I want to address: “Any church that follows God doesn’t hesitate to call out the demonic forces within public education. Public Education seeks to separate children from God at almost every turn. Millstones for thy necks.”
Although it is very tempting to accept this challenge and call out the demonic forces within public education, which I absolutely can do [hint: candidates for school boards who don’t seem to care about education], I am going to try to follow Jesus and resist.
God is in all schools with all children. If you are wondering, here’s where I’ve specifically seen God in neighborhood public schools:
- God is in the kindergarten teacher who nurtures the little ones and patiently listens to their endless commentary on life.
- God is in the fifth-grade teachers who play guitar, build robots and order class snakes for their students who are otherwise not as engaged.
- God is in the elementary school that also serves as the regional school for the deaf and hard of hearing, and in the hearing-kids who learn sign language to talk with their classmates.
- God is in the schools when nearby church members participate in mentoring programs and form friendships with kids who don’t have very many adult role models.
- God is in the schools when volunteers come to deliver food for the weekend to kids who can’t otherwise depend on food being in their home.
- God is in the middle school girl who makes room for a new student at her lunch table.
- God is in the discussions that happen in middle and high school English and history classes, where kids learn to listen to one another and respect each others’ opinions.
- God is in the moment of silence observed at the beginning of each day after the pledges of allegiance, when many children bow their heads to pray.
If you still believe that God isn’t in the public schools, then maybe that’s exactly where God is calling you to go.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week focused on public education. The previous article in the series is:
Director of Communications and Development at Fellowship Southwest. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is married to Garrett who pastors Woodland Baptist Church. They have three elementary-aged daughters in public school.