Paxton: Elgin, Galena Park schools illegally endorsed politician


Highlights

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton posted screenshots of school officials expressing support for Scott Milder.

Elgin Superintendent Jodi Duron said the district did nothing wrong.

School district officials face a class A misdemeanor for electioneering.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent two more cease-and-desist letters to school districts — Elgin and Galena Park — on Friday, saying officials at those districts had used school resources illegally to advocate for the election of Scott Milder, who ran against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the March 6 Republican primary.

Last month, Paxton sent cease-and-desist letters to Brazosport, Holliday and Lewisville districts, also saying that those school districts had illegally used school resources to electioneer.

“Spending taxpayer dollars on advocating for or against political candidates is unacceptable,” Paxton said in a news release Friday. “It erodes public trust in our schools and, more importantly, diverts taxpayer funds from their intended purpose — enabling educators to provide the youth of Texas the education and skills they need to succeed in life and fully participate in our democracy.”

In his letter to the Elgin school district, Paxton includes multiple screenshots of tweets and retweets from district accounts. He highlighted in particular Elgin Superintendent Jodi Duron’s Twitter account retweeting a Feb. 19 message from Texas Parent PAC that in part read, “Lt Gov .@DanPatrickTX disrespects parents by refusing to answer PTA’s thoughtful question.” The message then endorsed Milder and included dates to vote in the primary. Patrick defeated Milder, a co-founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools, by a 52-point margin.

READ: Battle over private school choice playing out at Texas polls

Duron said the school district is reviewing Paxton’s request and plans to respond, but said she believes the district did nothing wrong.

“Elgin ISD maintains that it has not violated any laws or regulations related to the Twitter communications in question, and looks forward to presenting this information to the Attorney General. Elgin ISD disagrees with the conclusions made in the Attorney General’s press release published today, which makes unsupported claims regarding use of taxpayer dollars to advocate in an election,” Duron told the American-Statesman.

In his cease-and-desist letter to Galena Park, in Harris County, Paxton provides a screenshot of an email from North Shore Senior High School Principal Joe Coleman that reads, “Colleagues, I agree that we need to support Scott Milder in his quest to become the Texas Lieutenant Governor.” Coleman then said in another email, “I probably broke some type of rule with this email, probably not good judgement (sic).”

Officials with Galena Park did not respond to a request for comment. The district was closed Friday for spring break.

Paxton, a close political ally of Patrick’s, asked the school districts to remove the messages by Wednesday. He said school districts’ electioneering could result in officials being charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine.

Officials with the attorney general’s office would not comment on whether they received complaints regarding the school districts or how they’re investigating the issue other than to say they continue to follow it.

Conservative group Empower Texans last month sent out mailers to school district employees asking for reports of electioneering.

Teacher voting groups had carried out intense efforts over the past few months to get educators and public education advocates to vote in the March primary. Officials from organizations like the 24,000-member Facebook group Texans for Public Education and Texas Parent PAC have said they will continue to oppose the re-election of Patrick, who has been an ardent supporter of subsidizing private school tuition and has opposed payroll deductions of teacher union dues.



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