Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday sent cease-and-desist letters to three Texas school districts — Brazosport, Holliday and Lewisville — that he said had illegally used school resources to advocate for political candidates and measures.
“My office fully encourages Texas schools to educate their students on civic duties and assist them in registering to vote. But pushing faculty or others to vote for a particular person is a clear violation of the Texas election and education codes,” Paxton said in a news release.
Paxton’s letters to the school districts included screenshots of tweets from school district officials. One showed Brazosport Superintendent Danny Massey tweeting his support of Scott Milder, who is running against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Republican primary. Milder, co-founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools, has received strong support from teacher groups.
In another letter, Paxton’s office took issue with the Holliday school district’s Twitter account retweeting statements about voting pro-public education. The letter also showed screenshots of the district’s account retweeting multiple articles and statements supporting Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. Conservative Texas Republicans have criticized Straus for being too liberal for the GOP.
Lewisville school district spokeswoman Amanda Brim said the district had deleted one of the tweets mentioned in Paxton’s cease-and-desist letter the day after it was posted. The post read: “We are asking for support from our state Legislature. We’re not getting it. It’s time for change.”
“We became aware our intent may have been misinterpreted,” Brim said about the removed tweet. “We dispute any characterization of the district’s get-out-the-vote campaign as anything other than an effort to engage the LISD staff and community in their constitutional right to vote and advocate for themselves.”
Paxton’s letters came as teacher groups have fallen under the scrutiny of conservative organizations and state leaders for get-out-the-vote tactics.
The concerns led state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in December to ask Paxton to weigh in on the legality of the practices of one group, Texas Educators Vote, and participating school districts including Austin, Eanes, Del Valle and Pflugerville.
Bettencourt specifically asked whether school districts can use public money to electioneer and to bus students and teachers to polling places for the March primaries.
Paxton said both practices are illegal.
Some teachers unions and teacher voting groups, including 20,000-member Texans for Public Education, do not support Patrick and many state lawmakers who are his allies. Patrick has long advocated for measures that would subsidize private school tuition. He also has supported banning automatic payroll deductions for teacher unions.
Troy Reynolds, founder of Texans for Public Education, a Facebook group mostly made up of educators, said Paxton’s letters were an attempt to keep teachers from voting.
“All they’re doing is enraging teachers more and more, and we’re not going to be quiet. I guarantee we are going to show up at the polls,” Reynolds said.