ISD Accuses Paxton of Playing Politics With Electioneering Suit

Huffman ISD
Huffman ISD | Image by Huffman ISD/Facebook

Huffman ISD’s leadership slammed Attorney General Ken Paxton for filing a lawsuit against officials that alleges the district engaged in electioneering to oust candidates who favor school choice.

Leaked audio at a Hargrave High School staff meeting this year suggested Huffman ISD Superintendent Benny Soileau directed teachers to vote for Republican candidates in the Texas primaries that oppose school choice, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. Paxton filed a lawsuit in response that claimed the audio was evidence of electioneering in violation of the state’s education and election codes, which regulate the political activity of school districts.

Soileau recently filed an answer to Paxton’s petition with the district’s trustees, claiming the lawsuit was politically motivated.

“This politics-driven action falls far short of establishing that Superintendent Soileau or the trustees violated Texas law,” the petition reads. “It also impermissibly invades protected speech. The State’s claims have no merit and should be dismissed.”

The lawsuit spotlights the political fight over school choice in Texas. The state legislature failed to pass school choice legislation last year as some Republicans joined Democrats to spike a plan in the House. Gov. Greg Abbott worked to elect more Republican candidates in the primary this year who support school choice programs with hopes of passing a voucher program in future sessions.

“The Attorney General filed this lawsuit as a politically-motivated publicity stunt to help turnout anti-public education voters in advance of the Republican primaries,” Huffman ISD leadership wrote in the court document. “Having failed to pass his voucher agenda through traditional means, the Governor vowed to impose it ‘the hard way.'”

“In furtherance of that threat, the Attorney General seeks to use the power-and funds-of the State to trample upon the rights of local officials who dare to support Texas public schools,” the petition continued. “This lawsuit offends the United States Constitution and Texas law.”

William Bennett of Concerned Teachers of Texas said Huffman ISD’s response to the lawsuit shows a lack of respect for the law.

“Our organization is deeply disappointed anytime an educator or administrator so flagrantly disrespects the laws of the State of Texas,” he told The Dallas Express. “Education is paramount to every child in Texas, and we understand the passions educators and administrators can develop over these crucial issues, but laws are there to protect the process. An incident like this stains the work and importance of what education truly is in Texas.”

Huffman ISD officials argued in the court document that Soileau’s comments in the audio were protected by free speech as he described ways teachers could advocate for more public school funding.

Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow for the American Federation for Children, countered that the audio was a clear example of electioneering on the part of Huffman ISD.

“The school district is shamefully running cover for their Superintendent with pathetic excuses for his illegal activity,” he told The Dallas Express. “The evidence is out there for everyone to see, so the best that they can do at this point is to try to move the goalposts. The district should be ashamed of themselves for excusing illegal electioneering activity by their highest ranked employee.”

“The Texas election code is clear,” he continued. “It is illegal for school administrators to use public resources to campaign for or against any candidate, regardless of the district that they’re in.”

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