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State school board association touts anti-choice groups

By   /   February 24, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

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BIPARTISANSHIP, OF A SORT: Texas Parent PAC funds Republican and Democratic candidates, as long as they oppose school choice.

 

In the midst of early voting, two anti-school choice groups are getting a taxpayer-funded boost from the Texas Association of School Boards.

Texas Parent PAC was linked last week in a TASB email blast titled “Don’t Forget to Vote!” The email linked to the Texas Association of School Administrators site, which carried the political action committee’s endorsements in 24 Texas House and Senate races.

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HARDLINE: Further to the left, Texas Kids Can’t Wait considers charter schools a scourge on public education.

Texas Parent PAC calls itself “bipartisan,” but opposes political candidates who advocate school choice and promoted a hyper-partisan “scorecard” by Texas Kids Can’t Wait, a far-left advocacy group that opposes even the mildest education reforms, such as charter schools.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait awarded “A” grades to anti-choice Democratic lawmakers. It gave an “F” to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and an “F-“ to Dan Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor who actively supports parental-choice legislation as head of the state Senate. No Republican lawmaker earned better than a “C.”

The Texas Association of School Boards is funded, in part, with tax dollars collected by Texas’ pubic school boards.

“This is a glaring example of electioneering, with taxpayers footing the bill. Our school districts fund TASB,” said Peggy Venable, policy and legislative director at the market-minded Americans for Prosperity.

Venable called TASB’s actions “a betrayal of taxpayer funding when education dollars are spent on electioneering and advocating for anti-school choice candidates instead of being spent in the classroom on instruction and on teachers.”

TASB communications chief Dax Gonzalez told Watchdog.org that the association “has an advocacy agenda.” While admitting no legal wrongdoing, Gonzalez acknowledged that “our general counsel gets heartburn” from politically oriented emails.

Texas Parent PAC identified its endorsed candidates with the headline: “Who Are Strong Supporters of Public Education!”

“Please vote as if the future of Texas public education depends on you, because it does,” the PAC stated.

Texas Parent PAC is funded by H-E-B grocery magnate Charles Butt, a staunch opponent of school choice legislation and bankroller of like-minded politicians.

RELATED: How Charles Butt and Joe Straus derail school choice

As of Feb. 1, the PAC reported making $13,733 in political contributions during the current election cycle. It lists $45,133 cash on hand.

PAC-backed candidates pledge allegiance to “guiding principles” that promote more funding, school employee benefits and pensions.

In counterattacks last week, two pro-school choice groups — Texas Parents Union and TX 4 School Choice — tweeted: “If you support private #schoolchoice, do not vote for [Parent PAC] candidates.”

Matt Prewett, president of Texas Parents Union, said Butt’s PAC has had electoral success focusing on tightly fought rural races. He called the PAC’s pro-education persona a “ruse” to mask its mission – fighting competition and parental choice in public schools.

Texas Kids Can’t Wait is radically partisan. The group’s report card even dinged Butt’s protégé, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, with a “C-.” Eighty-eight of 98 Republican lawmakers got “F’s”; 29 of 51 Democrats got “A’s” or “B’s.”

“There are those at work to destroy public education,” according to Texas Kids Can’t Wait. “They impose draconian accountability systems and austerity budgets to make sure that schools struggle. Then they advocate for corporate takeover of public schools through charters, vouchers, online courses, etc.”

No campaign finance data was available for the group.

As for TASB, Venable said, “They clearly don’t include scorecards and legislative report cards from conservative groups. They did not include ours.”

TASB’s Gonzalez said, “I don’t go looking for stuff,” adding that school-choice advocates are welcome to send material his way.

“I’m more of an aggregator. It just depends on what comes across and how much time and space I have,” he said.

State law prohibits “political subdivisions” from using public funds or internal email servers for campaign-related activities. Texas Ethics Commission spokesman Ian Steusloff said it was not clear if TASB qualified as a political subdivision.

Attorney General Ken Paxton — who was rated “unacceptable” by Texas Kids Can’t Wait when he was a state senator – declined to comment on the legality or propriety of TASB’s emails. Watchdog.org formally requested opinion on the matter Wednesday.

This article was updated at 11:30 a.m.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]. @Kenricward

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Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org. A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining Watchdog.org in 2012 and previously reported from Virginia. Kenric can be reached at [email protected]