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Another Texas school district sued over illegal electioneering

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(The Center Square) – More Texas public school districts are being sued over accusations they used taxpayer resources to instruct staff to vote against school choice candidates in the Republican primary election regardless if they are Republicans.

Hutto Independent School District is the latest to be sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton for allegedly using state resources to conduct illegal electioneering.

This is after Paxton sued Huffman and Aledo independent school districts on Friday after first suing Denton, Frisco, Denison and Castleberry ISDs in one week. The districts were sued “for illegal electioneering by using taxpayer-funded resources” to “stump for specific candidates during an election” and/or “promote certain political candidates and policies” related to school choice.

The lawsuits were filed as school districts have waded into the primary election, opposing a school choice GOP ballot proposition and Republican candidates endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott who support it.

After a Senate school choice bill failed multiple times in the House last year, a House education funding bill was proposed that included a school choice amendment that would have funded an Education Savings Account pilot program for primarily disadvantaged and minority students. Twenty-one Republicans voted to kill the amendment. Five of them retired; 16 are being challenged by pro-school choice candidates endorsed by Abbott and others.

Hutto ISD also made unsubstantiated claims that those who vote for school choice would cause the district to lose teachers and school buses. School districts are increasingly claiming that school choice funds take away from public school funding contrary to both the Texas Senate and House bills proposed in the legislature last year. Public schools were fully funded as required by the state constitution, Abbott and school choice supporters in the legislature say, as The Center Square has reported.

Hutto ISD claimed in a Facebook post, “Education is always on the ballot! Vouchers hurt our public schools. For every 100 Hippos lost to a voucher, Hutto ISD would lose $1.15 million, which would mean a loss of 18 teaching positions or 8 new school buses.”

Paxton said the district using official government resources to advocate for a specific political policy “directly violated the Texas Election Code,” which states, “the board of trustees of an independent school district may not use state or local funds or other resources of the district to electioneer for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.”

On March 1, the District Court of Denton County granted Paxton’s request for an injunction against Denton ISD. The court enjoined the defendants “from violating the Texas Election Code” and prohibited ISD employees from using any funds or resources, “including email, or other means to engage in electioneering in violation of the Texas Election Code.”

This is after the district court of Collin County granted a temporary restraining order against Frisco ISD and the District Court of Tarrant County granted a temporary restraining order against Castleberry ISD. The courts directed the districts and their employees not to use any funds or resources to engage in electioneering in violation of Texas Election Code.

Because the Office of the Attorney General falls under the executive branch and not the judicial branch, the Texas Constitution prohibits the office from criminally prosecuting Election Code violations, as recently ruled by the state Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas v. Stephens. However, the Texas Constitution and state law do not prevent the OAG from seeking civil injunctive relief to get a court order to prohibit school districts from attempting to influence elections.

“It is absolutely improper for publicly funded entities like school districts to engage in electioneering as Denton ISD has done,” Paxton said. “State law prohibits government officials – including school district personnel – from using either their positions of authority or taxpayer resources to influence the outcome of elections. Government officials everywhere are on notice that I will use every legal remedy available to me to stop school districts from influencing or coercing their employees to vote any particular way, especially when a district uses taxpayer resources and money to do so. Our elections must be completely protected from any illegal interference.”