Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent new cease and desist letters to two more public school districts Friday. The letters included examples of advocacy campaigns from the recent statewide March primary election that allegedly violated the state’s education code.
In a news release, Paxton said the Elgin and Galena Park school districts used taxpayer dollars to reportedly advocate for or against certain political candidates in the March 2018 primary election. Letters sent to the school districts included examples from official Twitter and/or by email accounts.
“The Legislature has enacted laws empowering schools to encourage voting and assist students in registering to vote, but school districts violate the Texas Election and Education codes when they exhort faculty or others to vote for a particular person or ballot measure,” stated Paxton. “Spending taxpayer dollars on advocating for or against political candidates in unacceptable. 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.”
The letter to the Austin-area Elgin Independent School District (EISD) highlighted tweets sent from official school district Twitter accounts of Superintendent Jodi Duron and Elgin ISD Human Resources (HR). The AG’s office asserted these communications advocate “for and against the election of particular candidates and measures.”
One tweet, retweeted by Duron, was a message from Texas Parent PAC. It endorsed Scott Milder, the GOP challenger to incumbent Lt. Dan Patrick in the March 6 primary. Milder lost and since endorsed Democrat nominee Mike Collier in the November election. Texas Parent PAC, considered a “power PAC,” opposes school choice. It is generously funded by H-E-B supermarket magnate Charles Butt.
Another retweet came from the Elgin ISD Human Resources account. It promoted comments made by candidate Milder, which called for “retiring Dan Patrick.”
The letter to Galena Park ISD, in Houston, centered on a political endorsement “distributed” from the official school district email account of North Shore Senior High School Principal Joe Coleman. It contained a letter from Milder:
Colleagues, I agree that we need to support Scott Milder in his quest to become the Texas Lieutenant Governor. He is a former GPISD employee during Dr. Neeley’s superintendency. Remember, to ask for a Republican Ballott [sic], you can vote in Texas in the primaries for a Republican or Democrat. Let’s support Scott Milder. Please tell all of your friends and family this is critical. Joe
Coleman attached an “Open Letter to Texas Educators” written by Milder, self-identified as “FOUNDER” of Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) and the “Rational Republican for Lt. Governor.”
Milder asserted “a handful of state legislators” are targeting “your profession” and “your students,” also claiming “they most certainly DO NOT want you to vote.” He alleged that certain lawmakers want “to continues their efforts to defund and dismantle Texas public schools.” Milder then charged that “Lieutenant Dan Patrick is Public Education ENEMY No. 1” and promoted his bid for the lieutenant governorship.
“Although not all educators are Republicans, open primaries in Texas allow any registered voter to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary,” wrote Milder. He suggested tactics to “mobilize the educator vote” on his behalf such as “Join the RED DOT for SCOTT Campaign!”
The letter asserted that “receiving” such a message over a school district email system did not violate any laws, but instructed education professionals “do not forward from a district email or device” as that would be considered a violation.
Milder advised readers to “spread the word to all your educator friends and families across Texas!” by using “personal email and devices, not district’s.” Milder also asked educators to collect personal email addresses from colleges and send them” to him. His message concluded: “Political ad paid for by the Scott Milder for Texas Lieutenant Governor Campaign.”
“Knowing that what he did was wrong, the Principal then alerted Executive Director for School Administration, Tammy Pankratz, and the Administrative Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent for Educational Support & School Administration, Kenneth Wallace,” wrote Assistant AG Cleve Doty in the letter to Galena Park ISD Superintendent Angi Williams:
I probably broke some type of rule with this email, probably not good judgment. I have not had a complaint but just letting you know in case you get one. Joe.
Doty continued: “The evidence reveals that these communications were made on behalf of the school district as a government entity, acting in its official capacity, and using resources that belong to the taxpayers of Texas.”
The AG’s office requested the two school districts remove all political messages and “cease from making any further communications designed to support or oppose certain political candidates, or which may otherwise run afoul of Texas law,” by Wednesday, March 21.
In February, Breitbart Texas reported Paxton issued cease and desist letters to school districts in Lewisville, Brazosport, and Holliday over similar concerns over education and election code violations.
Breitbart Texas recently exposed emails sent by Lewisville ISD Superintendent Kevin Rogers to staff in a past advocacy campaign. It also involved a FOTPS letter from Milder and encouraged teachers to switch political parties in the 2016 March primary to impact the state’s results going into the November presidential election.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.