Rev. Charles Johnson, Director of Pastors for Texas Children and a great friend of Make Education a Priority, recently tweeted what I believe is one of the best quotes I have seen relating to the ongoing voucher debate. Rev. Johnson said,
“If the voucher debate was really about kids, we’d target those 75 or 80 struggling schools out of 8,500 public schools and we would give them the resources they need to succeed. The Legislature consistently refuses to do that.”
Those who know Rev. Johnson (or know of him) are aware that he is one of the most passionate individuals advocating for the more than 5.2 million Texas public education students. He has traveled the state to deliver his messages and has worked tirelessly to build support from the faith community, support that is gaining traction and having an impact on those elected to serve us.
The Supreme Court ruling that school finance in Texas meets the “minimum constitutional requirement” (acceptance of “minimum” in anything we do still galls the heck out of me!) let the Legislature off the hook in having to do anything specifically. And while the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House both issued charges to their members to look at public education and school finance, how many in Austin are really serious about how their decisions impact students across the state?
There certainly is stronger support for public education in the House than there is in the Senate but Rev. Johnson and others are doing what they can to focus on the challenges faced by districts across the state. It’s relatively easy to focus on tax cuts and cost containment while blaming districts for shortcomings on some of our campuses. Strong leadership, however, will (or should) look at the factors that impact these deficiencies and work with their constituents to address them. The needs of the students should be the drivers of decisions, not simply a push to reduce the state’s share of funding for public education. But that is the challenge districts face in Austin.
As children, we were taught to embrace challenges and to do what we could to overcome these challenges. Students on struggling campuses have that same desire and perspective but where is the commitment from others to help them achieve their goals? Given what economist Ray Perryman documented as the significant return on dollars invested in public education, why do we ignore those with the greatest need? If we don’t invest in these campuses and these students, what opportunity do they have to succeed? How do we ensure that the Legislature fulfills its constitutional requirement to adequately fund public education?
With discussions led by Rev. Johnson and others across the state, public education must remain at the forefront of discussions with our legislators. It’s easy to sit back and say “no” to the needs of children; it takes a great deal more leadership and courage to embrace these needs and to initiate actions to Make Education a Priority.