It may have been unusually — for Dallas — chilly Thursday morning, but the warmth inside First United Methodist Church downtown was effusive when an organization of faith leaders held a breakfast gathering to talk about their unified efforts to advocate for public education.
Pastors for Texas Children members were also there to honor the church’s senior minister, Andy Stoker, with their “Hero for Texas Children” award, recognizing him for leading his church in work to provide assistance and care for children in Dallas ISD schools.
Under Stoker’s leadership, the church’s lay members forged a partnership with JJ Rhoads Elementary several years ago, first providing volunteers to assist with reading tutoring, and slowly increasing their efforts to include everything from purchasing a washer and dryer for the school to use, assisting with uniforms, chaperoning field trips, and recognizing teachers in a school where parental involvement and engagement can be hard to come by.
Stoker also had a dream of spreading that model beyond one school, working with the church’s North Texas Council to create One + One Dallas, which works to match schools with more churches to create more partnerships like the one Rhoads has with FUMC-Dallas.
Stoker, who has two sons with his wife, Megan, doesn’t just advocate for Dallas ISD students — he also is a Dallas ISD parent.
“A lot of people are talking the talk,” Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said.” Not many walk the walk. That’s what’s so impressive about Andy — he put his kids in Dallas ISD schools, and didn’t have to.”
“He trusts his community, and he trusts our educators, with his children.”
Hinojosa said that after naming Stoker to his advisory committee, his commitment was obvious.
“He has attended every single meeting,” he said.
Stoker was also recognized by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was unable to attend, but sent a proclamation that FUMC-Dallas associate minister Holly Bandel read. The proclamation cited a litany of volunteer work Stoker has done on behalf of Dallas children — and it was not short.
“I would not be up here without the inspiration and support of the lay people at our church,” Stoker told those gathered. “Our faith community has been transformed by the second and third graders at JJ Rhoads. They taught us to be welcoming. They taught us to be grateful.”
The morning was also spent talking about Pastors for Texas Children’s advocacy work, which includes, as it’s mission statement says, advocating for children “by supporting our free, public education system, to promote social justice for children, and to advance legislation that enriches Texas children, families, and communities.”
The statewide organization has been holding meetings all over Texas leading up to the Nov. 6 election, discussing public school finance. It includes faith leaders of many denominations, all with a common goal, Johnson said.
“Something’s happening in Texas,” he said. “We’re seeing a pattern, brothers and sisters — a pattern of decent Democrats and decent Republicans standing strong for every Texas child.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins gave the keynote address, where he touched on how education — and educators — changed the trajectory of his life, explaining that he wasn’t a great student growing up. He eventually graduated from Baylor and went on to get a law degree, but before that, an educator took interest in him and convinced him to enroll in community college.
“There are plenty of parents and plenty of kids who think they’re not college material,” he said, adding that the Dallas County Promise effort — which ensures that every student who applies goes to college for free — is making higher education a reality for many students who thought otherwise.
Jenkins also marveled at the path Dallas ISD has forged in recent years.
“Probably about eight years ago, if Andy told someone he sent his kids to DISD, people would wonder why,” he said, adding that he is also a Dallas ISD parent.
But Jenkins said that Dallas (and the state) still has work to do for the county’s children — 97 percent of Dallas County children attend public schools.
“We need to expand pre-k,” he said. “We’ve stepped up our game, but there’s an opportunity to expand that.”
“Choice schools are a game changer – we were losing kids to charter schools,” he added. “I’m not against charter schools, but not all of them are good.”
He also railed against efforts to divert money to vouchers, pointing out that the math doesn’t add up.
“Here’s the math on vouchers — if you give $5,000 vouchers, and take that median family of four that makes $52,000 — these private schools cost anywhere from $10,000 to $24,000, which means we ask the family to pay upwards of $50,000 a year.”
“Those kids can not afford to do that,” he said. “So then they’re in the same public school they were in before, but with less money.”
“We need to stop taking money out of public education to send it to private schools,” he said.