Standing Firm for Public School Kids

How believers on school boards can bring transformation

Brenda Lebsack, a public school teacher and ministry leader in Orange, Calif., was surprised when she got a phone call asking her if she would consider running for her district’s school board. “I had no plan of it, no desire, no inkling to run for the school board,” Lebsack told Decision.

But as she and her husband began praying about the idea, she recalled Franklin Graham’s 2016 Decision America Tour pledge that she had signed seven months prior. Franklin’s plea to seek God during the presidential election year inspired Lebsack to participate online in his 50-state Tour—and to sign a pledge committing to pray for America and to take a stand for Christ. One of the vows stated, “I pledge to engage my community with God’s truth and prayerfully consider running for office.” Lebsack’s recollection of the pledge was clear confirmation from God; she had to keep her promise.

Casting fear aside, Lebsack sought and won a seat on the Orange Unified School District Board of Education. Like Lebsack, other Christians are responding to God’s call to public education; and as Lebsack has learned, Christians on public school boards can be change agents. In her case, that change included challenging the state’s sex-education standards.

In 2015, California passed its Healthy Youth Act, requiring schools to teach comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention. The law aims to protect students, but it subtly welcomes a dangerous agenda, allowing schools to adopt inappropriate sex-education and gender curricula. Lebsack and her friend Rebecca Friedrichs were bothered by the curricula and decided to use their God-given positions of influence to stand for truth.

Friedrichs, a former teacher, has a passion for educating teachers, parents and others about what students are being taught in public schools. As Friedrichs dug to find the forces motivating the secular-progressive agenda, she discovered that her own state’s teachers union was funding initiatives that contradicted her Christian values. And at the time, the agency fee required to opt out of union membership amounted to slightly less than the union dues, making it close to impossible for teachers to completely avoid funding the union.

Friedrichs became the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association, in which she fought the mandatory agency fee. But with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court deadlocked, and the issue remained unresolved until Mark Janus of Illinois won a similar Supreme Court case in June.

Friedrichs’ courage to voice her convictions became a platform to support Christian school board members, parents, teachers and communities. She started a nonprofit, For Kids and Country, and has written a book, Standing Up to Goliath, to be released in November.

Lebsack, inspired by Friedrichs, uses her role as a school board member to bring awareness to harmful sex-education and gender curricula. Her goal is to share “unconditional love and uncompromising truth” by revealing medical inaccuracies and deception in curricula supported by California law. By serving on her local school board, Lebsack not only impacts her own students as a public school teacher but also an entire district where she resides.

Even states and districts that aren’t directly battling immoral agendas encounter complex challenges and need Christians to lead their schools with faith and conviction. Matt Evans, a pastor and a member of the Dalton Board of Education in Georgia, told Decision, “I fully believe Christ-followers must be engaged in the public arena, seeking the common good, advocating for the vulnerable and demonstrating civility.”

Evans believes each student is created in God’s image, so every child deserves a high-quality education regardless of zip code, household income or ethnicity. Evans ran for his local school board as a way to stand up for the poor and seek justice.

He was elected in 2017, and his desire to navigate tough issues with a Christlike character forces him to routinely acknowledge his dependence on God and to lead with humility and grace.

State boards of education, which typically oversee state education standards and approvals on a plethora of textbooks, are another place of crucial service.

Gail Lowe is former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, which, like California, has significant national influence with textbook publishers because of the state’s size. Lowe used her time on a local school board and later on the state board to maintain high academic quality and place value on family.

A small-town newspaper publisher and longtime volunteer in local classrooms, Lowe admitted that running for the state school board was the scariest thing she has ever considered. “I just really felt that God was going to have to empower me to do this because it was way beyond what I felt comfortable doing,” she said. “I just didn’t have the strength and power.”

But she embraced the platform God provided for her in faith, and God showed up during her tenure on the state board, a tumultuous period from 2003 to 2012. During that time, the Texas state board was able to halt academically inadequate math textbooks, contend for teaching strengths and weaknesses in scientific theories, and emphasize parental rights in Texas schools. Lowe credits every success to God’s intervention.

America’s schools are a spiritual battlefield, Lebsack said. “If we are not involved in the democratic process and refuse to see political offices as spiritual callings, then we are removing accountability and giving license for evil to triumph.”

Evans challenges believers to take a stand. “With over 90 percent of America’s children in public schools, the example, the voice and the advocacy of Christian leaders is crucial,” he said. “It’s part of being on mission and part of the mantle of responsibility we have to our children.”