Internal communications obtained by The Dallas Express show how Dallas ISD worked behind the scenes to advocate against school choice initiatives at the statehouse.

Members of Dallas ISD’s board of trustees passed a unanimous resolution last September opposing education savings accounts and any potential mechanism allowing families to use taxpayer money to defray the costs of private school or homeschooling costs. The emails obtained by DX suggest how this consensus emerged.

Jon Dahlander, the chief of partnerships and intergovernmental relations for Dallas ISD, advised the board of trustees on how to best advocate against school choice. In February 2023, he sent Trustee Ben Mackey a list of talking points.

“As discussed this morning during the trustee triad, here is the link to the talking points regarding vouchers/education savings accounts put together by the Texas School Alliance, of which we are a member,” Dahlander wrote in the email.

“Below are three articles that have come out within the last couple days about the voucher issue. This first one indicates how the governor plans to be ‘heavily involved’ in the campaign to push for vouchers/education savings accounts. The second one is titled, ‘What you need to know about education savings accounts…’ The third one, from Texas Monthly, connects several data points regarding public education in the state. These articles provide important context for the discussions taking place at the Capitol,” he continued.

Mackey and Dahlander did not respond to a request for comment.

Dahlander sent another email in December 2023 to Trustees Sarah Weinberg, Dan Micciche, Maxie Johnson, and Mackey with a list of Republicans opposed to school choice initiatives.

“Good morning. During yesterday’s trustee triads, I was requested to send a list of House Republicans who voted to remove school vouchers/private school subsidies from HB 1 during the most recent special session. Below is a link to an article that lists each of them,” Dahlander emailed.

The trustees did not respond to a request for comment.

Dahlander sent another email to Weinberg in August 2023, this one linking to a document from the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center on opposition to school choice.

“Trustee Weinberg, I came across this article about the fiscal consequences of vouchers and thought it might be of interest to you. Feel free to share it with others,” he emailed.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special session last year to pass a school choice program. However, as DX previously reported, the effort failed due to opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in the House.

The governor spearheaded efforts during the Republican primary to unseat incumbents opposed to school choice initiatives. His efforts proved successful, as he said the statehouse now has the votes to pass school choice in the next session. Still, during the primary season, some public school officials were accused of potentially engaging in unlawful electioneering, seemingly directing employees to vote for anti-school choice Republicans.

Polling suggests that school choice is popular across many demographics, with black and Hispanic Texans appearing to show the most enthusiasm.

Several school districts across the state have been seeing declining enrollment numbers, partly due to parents’ concerns over politicization of curricula flagging student achievement outcomes.

According to the latest Texas Education Agency accountability reports, in the 2021-2022 school year, only 41% of Dallas ISD students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams. Additionally, just 81.1% of graduating seniors that year earned a diploma on time.