A statewide network of faith leaders has been working across Tennessee ahead of the 111th General Assembly, advocating for adequate public school funding and lifting up public education as a moral good and “a basic, core, fundamental, social-justice expression in society.”
Pastors for Tennessee Children is part of a national movement of pastors and religious leaders of all faiths united to promote public schools as a public trust.
“An overwhelming majority of Tennessee teachers is involved in a local church — likely leading a Sunday school class, counseling youth, leading children’s ministry, chairing committees, or serving as a deacon or an elder,” said Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Children. “When we as pastors need a job done, we go to you — to our teachers, so I’m asking you to go to your pastor in your community and tell them we are convening all the ministers in Tennessee to support public schools.”
Pastors for Tennessee Children has pledged to provide assistance to local neighborhood and community schools, and to advocate for the students, teachers, support staff and principals by supporting the citizens’ constitutional right to a “system of free public schools” spelled out in Article XI, Section 12, of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.
“Home, church and school — these are the three pillars we have vowed to protect,” Johnson said. “All three must be strong, and so it is time for Pastors for Tennessee Children to come together in solidarity for every public school in Tennessee, and work in such a way that public education ceases to be a wedge issue in Tennessee politics.”
Johnson traveled across Tennessee last fall, speaking with fellow ministers about the importance of supporting public schools against vouchers.
“We oppose school vouchers, which take from public school funds and put them out of the control of the public, mostly into unregulated religious schools,” according to the mission statement of the Pastors for Tennessee Children.
As part of his Tennessee speaking tour, Johnson described the successful fight he and fellow clergy led against vouchers in Texas. He said he founded Pastors for Texas Children in 2013 because he saw the destruction of communities perpetrated by the voucher schemes in other states and vowed to stop them in Texas. Pastors for Texas Children has succeeded, in part by growing its ranks to more than 2,000 faith leaders, and has inspired formation of similar groups in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Teachers are the professionals who preserve and protect God’s common good for all children,” Johnson said. “That is why we implore you to help us help you. Make an appointment with your pastor and invite them to join us."
“And if your pastor does not support public schools, he or she needs a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting, sponsored by you!” Johnson said.
To learn more about Pastors for Tennessee Children, visit www.pastorsfortennesseechildren.org.
Pictured above, from left: Belmont College of Theology Dean Darrell Gwaltney, TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder, TEA President Beth Brown and Pastors for Texas Children founder Rev. Charles Foster Johnson.