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Paxton’s Rotten Apple for Texas Teachers

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First they balk at the idea of packing heat in their classrooms. Now they have the audacity to encourage each other to vote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton apparently has some time on his hands, even though he’s fighting security fraud charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. His office has launched a fishing expedition against school administrators he suspects of “illegal electioneering.”

The Texas Tribune reports the AG’s office sent open records requests to more than a dozen school districts, demanding copies of communications about voting in Texas primaries. Some of those districts also got slapped with cease and desist letters telling them to stop using taxpayer money to advocate for political candidates.

What we have here is the latest salvo in a battle between right-wing activists and school administrators encouraging teachers to vote. Educators across Texas are justifiably upset with Republican elected officials who’ve slashed school funding and failed to fix our broken school finance system. So anything that drives more teachers to the polls presumably would hurt GOP candidates on the ballot.

That’s what prompted the influential conservative group Empower Texans to launch a social media campaign encouraging teachers to snitch on educators engaging in electioneering. That’s also what led state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, to ask for an attorney general’s opinion saying that school districts shouldn’t incentivize voting by driving students and teachers to polling places.

No doubt a couple of administrators have stepped over the line. One superintendent posted a video encouraging teachers “to let the Texas Legislature know you’ve had enough.” In at least two other districts, educators wrote questionable comments on official social media accounts; they didn’t name any politicians’ names, but they left no doubt they weren’t very happy with elected officials who’ve been cutting funding for public education.

Still, those examples don’t justify the attorney general’s office wasting a lot of time and energy trolling for superintendents and principals urging teachers to cast ballots. And let’s face it, there’s no doubt this heavy-handed action will serve the partisan purpose of discouraging school administrators from engaging in legitimate get-out-the-vote efforts.

This is the sort of behavior that threatens to stigmatize Texas Republicans as enemies of public education. Unless it wants to alienate a generation of Texas parents, the GOP doesn’t want to get stuck with that brand.

Our attorney general has more important job duties. This partisan battle against public school educators needs to come to an end.

Article by Houston Chronicle Editorial Board View on Houston Chronicle

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