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Paxton sues 2 more school districts for alleged voucher electioneering

Ken Paxton in front of the United States Supreme Court.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, leaves after addressing anti-abortion activists at a rally outside the Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Washington.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing two more North Texas school districts for alleged electioneering related to school vouchers.

In two separate lawsuits, Paxton requests a restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions against Denison ISD and Castleberry ISD. He has filed similar suits against Frisco ISD and Denton ISD.

Paxton alleges Castleberry ISD Superintendent Renee Smith-Faulkner forwarded an email to school administration from the head of the Castleberry School Retirees Association, Linda Jo Galvan. In the email, Galvan encourages readers to vote for Pat Hardy, who is running for re-election for the District 11 seat on the State Board of Education and who in the past has not supported vouchers.

The email also includes a list of lawmakers who “stuck their necks out to vote for us,” according to a screenshot included in Paxton’s filing.

Smith-Faulkner forwarded the email, along with a message to “vote accordingly.

“The main responsibility we have is to have a voice in the future of public education,” she wrote.

Paxton says the superintendent’s email includes “listing specific candidates that do and do not deserve support” and therefore violates the state Education Code and Election Code.

In an email to KERA News Thursday night, Smith-Faulkner said the lawsuit "filed by the Attorney General yesterday has been resolved.

"Recognizing there was no intended violation of law, the parties agreed to resolve the case and we will be vigilant to avoid even the appearance of electioneering," she wrote. "Our focus will be to continue providing quality public education, the foundation of the American Education System, which has and always will be instrumental in our nation’s success."

Paxton also alleges a message on Denison ISD’s homepage about opposing vouchers constitutes electioneering.

An earlier version of the message included in Paxton’s filing reads: “Our Grayson County Texas House of Representatives member Reggie Smith stood firm in his support of Texas public schools in each of the recent special sessions. For that, we say ‘thank you’!”

Paxton says in his filing the message “indicates support for a candidate that is on the ballot in the Republican primary election.”

The message is still on the district’s homepage, but the line has since been removed.

Paxton also points to a resolution the district passed in August calling on the Texas Legislature to reject using public funds to pay for private vouchers. Numerous districts passed similar resolutions expressing opposition to tying public school funding and teacher pay to a school voucher program.

Paxton acknowledges in a news release announcing the lawsuits that his office does not have the power to prosecute alleged Election Code violations, but an injunction could prohibit “school districts from engaging in unlawful attempts to influence elections,” and violators “could be subject to criminal prosecution by local authorities.”

Denison ISD has not responded to KERA News' request for comment.

A news release from Paxton’s office says the lawsuits are “part of an ongoing effort by Attorney General Paxton to ensure that Texas elections are not illegally swayed by public officials improperly using state resources.”