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Texas AG Sues 3 School Districts Over Voucher Opposition

Ken Paxton has filed lawsuits against Fisco, Denison and Castleberry school districts, alleging that they violated election law when officials suggested voting for candidates who oppose school vouchers.

The Texas attorney general’s office is suing three North Texas districts — Frisco, Denison and Castleberry — alleging that they violated election law when officials suggested voting for candidates who oppose vouchers.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed lawsuits against the districts saying their officials urged people to vote in favor of a certain policy or expressed their support or opposition for political candidates.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits Paxton’s office has filed against public schools ahead of the March 5 primary elections.

“I am extremely troubled by this pattern of government officials engaged in illegal electioneering. These are government employees charged with the education of our children. They must respect our laws,” Paxton said in a statement.

Denison and Castleberry school officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Frisco ISD officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit against Frisco alleges its Government Affairs office posted on social media to encourage people to vote for candidates who are against school vouchers and to influence them to vote “in a particular party primary,” according to the filing.

The lawsuit alleges that such actions directly violate the Texas Election Code’s ban against the use of “state or local funds or other resources of the district to electioneer for or against any candidate, measure, or political party,” according to the attorney general’s office.

Denison ISD, which is about 75 miles north of Dallas, is accused of voicing its support for Texas state Rep. Reggie Smith, a Sherman Republican, on its website in February, according to the lawsuit against that district.

A post referenced in the filing claims the district campaigned against school vouchers and the candidates who vote in favor of such policy.

Gov. Greg Abbott made passing voucherlike education savings accounts a priority last year. However, the effort to funnel public dollars to private schools was thwarted when some GOP House members joined Democrats in opposing the measures.

“Our Grayson County Texas House of Representatives member Reggie Smith stood firm in his support of Texas public schools in each of the recent special sessions. For that, we say ‘thank you’!” the district’s post reads.

Castleberry ISD Superintendent Renee Smith-Faulkner, who leads the Fort Worth-area school district, is accused of using her official email to send out an endorsement list of political candidates and instructing the district’s administration to “vote accordingly.”

The list, created by the Castleberry School Retirees Association President Linda Jo Galvan, canvasses for candidates who are “against vouchers” and names “the brave legislators who stuck their necks out to vote for us,” according to the lawsuit.

On Feb. 19, Smith-Faulkner shared the email with district administrators.

“Please take the information in her email and vote accordingly. The main responsibility we have is to have a voice in the future of public education,” Smith-Faulkner wrote. “We are operating on the same budget amount as in 2019 although we have seen record inflation since then. And there is no new money coming to our district next year. Vote in the Primaries. Have a voice!”

Last week, Paxton sued Denton ISD, accusing two principals of violating state election law by encouraging employees to vote against candidates who support school vouchers.

“It is absolutely improper for publicly funded entities like school districts to engage in electioneering,” Paxton said on X last week. “The 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.”

The lawsuit against Frisco highlights three different posts shared on a district Facebook page.

“Last session, proposed legislation that tied public school funding to a voucher program failed, leaving Frisco ISD $90 million behind 2019 funding levels,” one of the posts reads. “Candidates we’re voting for right now will decide whether or not public schools get funded appropriately. Make your voice heard!”

The attorney general’s office is seeking a court order to prohibit public schools from engaging in unlawful attempts to influence elections.

Paxton’s office is investigating other possible violations across the state, according to the statement from his agency.

“”I will continue to use every legal remedy available to me to stop this unlawful conduct. Elections are the foundation of our republic,” Paxton said in a statement. “They must be free and fair.”

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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