Group of Pastors Accuse Republican Officials of ‘Targeting’ Public Schools

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Three kids who are friends are laying on the floor in between bookshelves in the library. | Image by FatCamera

A coalition of Christian pastors in Fort Worth is pushing back against alleged “right-wing attempts to undermine public education.”

“These are people who don’t have a program,” said Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children in Fort Worth. “They don’t have a vision. They don’t have a plan. Their only project is chaos and confusion, and they’re taking it that they don’t believe in institutions.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has previously claimed that some educators introduce children to “explicit pornography” in public schools.

“Take a look at some of the portions from books that parents are going to school boards and reading out loud; this is what my child is being taught,” Cruz reportedly told Insider on February 11. “And in too many instances, you have left-wing educators putting explicit pornography in front of kids.”

Pastors for Texas Children, founded by Johnson nine years ago, is a network of about 1,000 churches statewide that advocate favorably for public schooling.

“Never before have we had some of the highest offices in our land come out with a frontal attack on our public school teachers and we’re just not going to accept it without a confrontation,” Johnson told The Dallas Express. “It would be wrong for us to stay silent in the face of what we consider to be this immoral affront to public servants who serve our poor children or all our children. 65% of them are poor all day long every day.”

Last year, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) requested that public school superintendents catalog nearly 850 titles related to race and sex, according to media reports, and, as previously reported in The Dallas Express, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the State Board of Education (SBOE) to work with the Texas Library Association in coming up with a framework for the books that are purchased for school libraries.

“After this primary, you won’t hear anything about pornography and you won’t hear anything about critical race theory,” Johnson said in an interview. “That’s the reason they’ve come out and that is when all these right-wing fringe candidates will lose, and they will lose. The incumbents will get re-elected, and you will see everybody back off from this attack on public schools.”

Critical race theory (CRT) is a series of educational proposals that include teaching students that America’s history of slavery began in 1619, not in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence. Conservatives have opposed the curriculum because it allegedly pits one race of students against another.

“It’s not racist to discuss racism,” Johnson added. “It doesn’t traumatize a white child to learn about slavery and American history. It’s only the biggest chapter in our history. It’s called truth telling. If we don’t know our accurate history, we’re doomed to repeat it.”

However, Hollie Plemmons, co-chair of the Tarrant County chapter of Moms for Liberty and a Fort Worth First Political Action Committee (PAC) steering committee, said that CRT is not written in the public-school curriculum. 

“They’re not teaching CRT,” she said. “That’s not what we’re saying. It’s how they do everything. The teachers are trained in it and they are then going into the classroom and looking at everything through a critical race theory lens. That’s how it’s being pushed off on our kids by how our teachers are trained.”

However, education policy advocates allege that parents asked for more diverse curriculums.

“Parents have had a voice for a very long time in saying that they want better-funded schools, better paid teachers and culturally relevant curriculum like ethnic studies courses and gender studies courses that are reflective of the diversity of Texas students,” said Jaime Puente, a policy analyst with Every Texan. “There are more black and Hispanic students in the Texas public education system than there are white students. So, we should have a curriculum and the parents have said that they want a curriculum that reflects the diversity of our state.”

The Texas Education Agency reports that Hispanics account for 52.9%, followed by 26.5% Whites, 12.7% African Americans, 4.7% Asians, and 2.7% multiracial students.

Republican and Democratic primaries are fast approaching, with the election scheduled to take place on March 1. Last month, Governor Greg Abbott said that school choice will be prioritized when the legislature meets again in 2023, according to media reports

“This upcoming session, you’re going to see a stronger, swifter more powerful movement advocating school choice than you’ve ever seen in the history of the State of Texas,” Abbott reportedly said.

But Johnson objects to school choice options, such as vouchers for private schooling because he foresees it will subsidize the private education of affluent Texans.

“It will leave the middle class and poor people to sink in a seat of deprivation,” he said. “That’s why Texas is never going to have a voucher plan. The governor knows it. In fact, for the governor to pull the rug out from members of his own party, these rural Republicans who have protected and preserved public education all this time and for the governor to come out attacking it during a primary election season when the right-wing fringe are running opponents against these loyal, faithful, incumbent, rural Republicans presenting these country towns is wrong and unjust.”

Gov. Abbott’s press assistant Sheridan Nolen did not respond to requests for comment.

Puente told The Dallas Express that he isn’t surprised that people are engaging in a more politically-minded effort to influence public education.

“It’s important that we frame these conversations in a way that’s reflective of an ongoing effort to resist an already changed world,” he said. “It’s easy to attack the public school system because it’s something that people can consistently see there are issues with and if you scream about gender identity, or books about gender identity and you scream about CRT or masks that erodes the citadel of public sentiment for public education.”

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