Houston – Attorney General Ken Paxton (R-Texas) has sent “cease and desist” letters to three Texas ISDs over allegations of “unlawful electioneering.” The school districts have until the close of business today, Friday, to respond to the Attorney Generals Office’s letter.
Citing the Texas Election Code which expressly forbids such action, the Attorney General’s office states in their letters that Brazosport ISD and Holliday ISD “… promulgated and published numerous communications directed for or against candidates and measures.” In the case of Lewisville ISD, the letter alleges that the district “launched an official campaign to ‘change’ the makeup of the Texas Legislature.”
“I ask that the ISDs follow the instructions of the Attorney General and immediately put a stop to this,” said Senator Bettencourt. “As a former election official I encourage more voter registration, but we cannot have the government spending taxpayer monies in promoting one particular candidate over another.”
In the case of Brazosport ISD the district Superintendent advocated on twitter, and official Brazosport ISD twitter pages retweeted, to vote for particular candidates in an upcoming election. “It is not surprising to me that the Superintendent just recently changed his twitter profile information because Superintendents cannot do this,” added Senator Bettencourt. Lewisville ISD widely promoted on their official school websites a video featuring their Superintendent claiming that “…It is time to use your teacher voice and let the Texas Legislature know that you have had enough…they are attacking you and me.”
“It is no wonder that Lewisville ISD has gotten a cease and desist letter from the Attorney General,” continued Senator Bettencourt. “You cannot have government telling people how to vote. These actions, and others, prove that my Attorney General opinion request was warranted.”
Senator Bettencourt (R-Houston) had previous asked for an opinion from the Attorney General on what legal constraints exist regarding a school district’s ability to spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising or communications designed to influence voters to vote for or against a particular measure or candidate and whether a school district providing or securing transportation for employees or students to and/or from polling places is a violation of the Gift Clauses of the Texas Constitution.
Almost 100 independent school districts adopted a resolution that, among other things, called for:– Creating District communications that encourage employees to participate in voter pledge programs (such as TexasEducatorsVote.com) with a partisan slant and asking educators in these ISDs to take an oath supporting public education and where feasible, providing District transportation to and from polling places.
“I don’t want to hear that there is no political activity in our public schools because clearly there has been,” concluded Senator Bettencourt. “I asked for an opinion because this needs to be stopped now.”
School districts have until the close of business today to respond to the cease and desist letters from the Attorney General’s office.