Attorney general offers election “advice” for educators

You may recall that two years ago Attorney General Ken Paxton tried to intimidate teachers and other educators from voting by making them think that political activity by school district employees was somehow illegal. Paxton is part of the Dan Patrick/Donald Trump political clique that wants educators to keep their mouths shut, stay at home on Election Day and let people like Patrick, Trump and Betsy DeVos decide education policy.

That approach didn’t work in 2018 because educators turned out in large numbers and elected pro-public education candidates to the Legislature. The result was the first significant increase in state education funding, including money for teacher pay raises, in years. They don’t want that to happen again, so Paxton is trying the intimidation ploy again, but this time more subtly.

He recently issued an “Educating our Children” booklet with FAQs and guidelines about the “role” of school districts in politics and elections.

TSTA is taking a close look at the attorney general’s answers and interpretations of state law because the booklet is filled with legal citations that most people don’t have time to read. The mere fact that Paxton issued the booklet in the weeks before the party primaries, however, may intimidate many of those educators who prefer to stay on the sidelines during election campaigns but whose votes are critical to the election of education friendly legislators.

Based on our preliminary inspection of Paxton’s booklet, we believe his interpretations may go beyond the law on some points. The attorney general, for example, says that disseminating political materials on campus may be a violation of law if there is an implied favoritism or preference. Actually, this is a subjective measure and not defined in law.

But here is the main thing to remember, and you don’t have to read Paxton’s legal citations to understand this. All educators have the right to vote, endorse candidates, campaign for candidates and encourage their colleagues, their friends and anyone else to vote for those candidates. The same applies to educators supporting or opposing specific political parties or ballot issues. Just don’t do it on school time or use school property, including school phones or email. And don’t post or share anything from politically connected websites or other sources promoting specific candidates, parties or issues on your school’s social media.

TSTA will continue to examine Paxton’s booklet. If you have questions about political activity, call TSTA’s Help Center, 1-877-ASK-TSTA or visit the Help Center online.

Meanwhile, stay involved. Check out TSTA’s list of endorsed candidates, Democrats and Republicans who truly support public schools, campaign or volunteer to help them if you have time — and vote. Early voting in the party primaries is Feb. 18-28, and Election Day is Tuesday, March 3.