With the idea of bringing faith leaders and educators together to help Odessa schools, the Rev. Dawn Weeks, co-pastor of Connection Christian Church, organized a Celebration of Public Education luncheon.
Held at the West Texas Food Bank, it attracted about 30 people from local churches and Ector County Independent School District. Retired educators, interested community members and representatives for Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa also were on hand.
The Rev. Bobby Broyles, West Texas regional director and board president of Pastors for Texas Children, spoke to attendees about the organization, its goal of having every church to adopt a school and reviewed its history.
Made up of faith leaders, educators and pastors, Pastors for Texas Children is five years old, Broyles said.
“We are very cognizant of the fact of separation of church and state, so we are not evangelical in the sense that we are going into the schools and trying to convert students,” Broyles said. “We are there to help administrators, teachers and students be the best they can be. That can be done in all kinds of ways,” Broyles said.
A small part of what Pastors for Texas Children does is advocate for public education in Austin to keep public money from being spent for private schools, he added.
“We love private schools. We love home schools, but we don’t believe public money should be spent for that purpose. We believe it’s a violation of separation of church of state,” Broyles said at Thursday’s meeting.
“We believe that it is the only way to go because once state money begins to filter into churches and church schools, then it’s just a matter of time, if not immediately, that all the regulations and everything else follows that. We believe private means private, and as much we value private education we simply believe it,” Broyles added.
He added that there are millions of children who would not be able to afford private school, even if they had a voucher.
“We are standing up for those who can’t speak for themselves in that way,” Broyles said.
In 2011, Broyles said the state took $5 billion out of public schools. Two years later, they put 60 percent back in and “crowed” about how they had refunded public education.
A few years ago, Broyles said the state was providing 52 percent of school funding and now it’s around 38 percent.
“Compound that with 180,000-plus new students in Texas every year. We are woefully, woefully, woefully underfunded,” Broyles said.
Pastors for Texas Children doesn’t endorse candidates, but he said there are always good, conservative people running for office who support public schools and educators just need to know who they are.
“If teachers vote as a bloc, they can get what they need,” Broyles said.
With reduced state funding, Weaks said the state is looking to local communities to make up the difference in property taxes. Funds for extracurricular activities, such as fine arts and athletics, have been cut in half, and those programs may the only reason some students go to school, Weaks said.
Broyles was a pastor for 42 years and is now the interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Cisco. Broyles said his group gave Seliger and other legislators its highest award recently. He observed that it’s tough to be pro public education in the Texas Senate, but Seliger has stood up to the “lies and deceit.”
Pastors for Texas Children has been fighting against vouchers since 1996. It was hoped that the idea would be defeated by now, but that hasn’t happened. He said the last two legislative sessions, his group has stopped vouchers. He added that private schools don’t have to take all students.
Broyles said there is a misconception among school superintendents that someone from Pastors for Texas Children would probably want to gripe about the schools not praying enough or not teaching the right things. But they want to help, Broyles said.
“Teachers are doing God’s work. Pastors for Texas Children believes even non-Christian teachers are doing God’s work,” Broyles said.
Broyles said one of the things he wanted to get people thinking about what they can do together as churches for schools. He mentioned working with parents and students on filling out college financial aid forms and having quarterly meetings with school administrators to find out what is going on in the schools.
He added that anybody and any church, no matter how they feel about vouchers, can be part of the effort.
“We need to help all kids, wherever the Lord gives us the opportunity to do so,” Broyles said.
Weaks said the next step is gathering a group of interested church leaders and pastors with Debbie Lieb, community liaison specialist with Volunteers and Partners at ECISD, to get churches volunteering and supporting the schools in tangible ways.
Weaks said Thursday’s gathering was encouraging.
“I was really pleased by the turnout and the way people are passionate about our schools. It was great to see that kind of dedication,” Weaks said.