Tag Archives: election

From The Texas Tribune: Texas AG Ken Paxton ramps up fight against schools’ “illegal electioneering”

By Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune
March 16, 2018

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera.

The first Valentine’s Day note that Kevin Dyes received from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last month was a “cease-and-desist” letter. The next two were open records requests.

All three seemed aimed at warning Dyes — the superintendent of Holliday ISD, a North Texas school district that enrolls just over 1,000 students, employs just over 100 staff, and occupies just under 300 square miles — to stop his “illegal electioneering.”

That was not what Dyes thought he’d been up to in the months leading up to Texas’ March 6 primary election.

“All I was trying to do in any of that — on Twitter, or in communications with my staff or the public — was to advocate for public education,” he said.

Dyes suspects that it was his Twitter presence, where he often retweets educators pledging to “#blockvote” in favor of pro-public education candidates, and that of the district, that drew Paxton’s attention.

Dyes was one of more than a dozen administrators whose districts were hit last month with open records requests from the Texas Attorney General’s Office seeking district communications about Texas primaries, voting and certain candidates and races, documents obtained by The Texas Tribune in a records request show.

And he was one of a smaller group of educators whose district also received a cease-and-desist letter from Paxton, the state’s top lawyer. After sending three letters last month, Paxton’s office sent two more Friday morning — to Elgin ISD and Galena Park ISD, both districts that had received records requests — asking administrators to stop using taxpayer money to advocate for political candidates.

“School districts violate the Texas Election and Education codes when they exhort faculty or others to vote for a particular person or ballot measure,” Paxton said in a statement Friday. “Spending taxpayer dollars on advocating for or against political candidates is unacceptable.”

The letters are just the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the role Texas public schools play in elections. Long-standing civic engagement initiatives aimed at getting more Texas teachers out to vote have come under fresh attack this election cycle, with conservative groups and Paxton himself warning that some efforts constitute “illegal electioneering.” A January ruling from his office advised districts that busing teachers and voting-age students to polling places is illegal unless such trips serve an “educational purpose.”

The records requests probe school administrators’ words and actions in an effort to identify illegal activity committed on the taxpayers’ dime. Public school employees can register students to vote and promote civic engagement, but they’re not allowed to use public money or other resources to support particular political candidates or parties.

The AG’s office did not return requests for comment on the records requests themselves, but has said several times it’s investigating complaints of election law violations and will continue to do so. But educators and advocates see a political motivation behind the probes, and the other missives that preceded them.

“To me it’s voter suppression — an attempt to bully us,” Troy Reynolds, the founder of Texans for Public Education and an administrator in Splendora ISD, which did not receive an AG request last month. “I’ve never seen anything like this before… They’re trying to shut us up.”

But state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who asked Paxton in December to weigh in on whether schools could bus employees to the polls, said claims that Paxton’s work is politically motivated are “an emotional response not based in reality.”

“When I see political activity not just creeping into schools but galloping into schools, you just gotta pull the reins and stop it,” Bettencourt said, adding that Paxton is merely working to ensure schools “educate the kids, not get into politics.”

Paxton’s office’s recent inquiries went to school districts of all sizes all across the state. Many requests were broad, asking for communications among top school officials that included words like “vote,” “voting,” “Texas Legislature” and “primary.” The AG’s office also sought campaign emails and information about “get out the vote efforts.”

While Paxton’s office said it’s targeting suspected lawbreakers, educators and advocates have pointed out that many were sent to the sites of tight Republican primary races, including two districts — Frisco ISD and Allen ISD — that fall into Senate District 8, where Paxton’s wife Angela Paxton recently won an expensive, hard-fought Republican primary against Phillip Huffines.

Granbury ISD — whose superintendent, Jim Largent, had the backing of many in the education community in his unsuccessful challenge against state Rep. Mike Lang — received three separate requests from the AG. Lang, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had the support of Empower Texans.

The AG’s office asked Granbury ISD for a copy of an email from Largent to district staff announcing his campaign and another from the superintendent containing the words “Their goal is to demonize and destroy public education and it is working.”

“One could probably connect the dots and come up with some theories about what they were doing,” Largent said in an interview this week.

Many requests also honed in on another Republican race: the face-off between sitting Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and challenger Scott Milder, a public education advocate backed by many in the education community. Milder ultimately lost to Patrick by more than 50 percentage points.

Milder said he sent campaign emails to about 100,000 educators, and those messages appeared in response to several of the AG’s requests. A disclaimer at the top of one Milder email advises recipients that “forwarding this email would be considered a violation so please do not forward from district email or device,” but merely receiving the email at a district address “is not a violation of any law.”

Some district administrators took care to pass the email along from their personal email addresses, records show. But others shared it from their official district addresses.

Joe Coleman, a principal in Galena Park ISD, was cited for doing just that in Paxton’s second round of cease-and-desist letters Friday.

“I agree that we need to support Scott Milder in his quest to become the Texas Lieutenant Governor,” Coleman wrote, passing along Milder’s email. “Remember, to ask for Republican Ballott, you can vote in Texas in the primaries for a Republican or Democrat. Let’s support Scott Milder. Please tell all of your friends and family this is critical.”

Coleman wrote back the next day: “I probably broke some type of rule with this email, probably not good judgement. I have not had a complaint but just letting you know in case you get one. Joe.”

Milder said it was “thoroughly disappointing” that Paxton would go to such lengths to “intimidate educators” out of voting.

“We know that the AG runs in the same circle as the lieutenant governor and they’re going to help each other out with their re-election campaigns,” Milder said. “The best way for the AG to get involved to help the lieutenant governor and the Empower Texans candidates is to intimidate regular Texans, rational Texans from voting. And it’s working.”

Some advocates allege that the process behind the AG’s office sending the requests was political as well.

Before the AG’s office began submitting records requests, school districts had already received similar inquiries from conservative groups, including the aggressive and influential Empower Texans. The Texas Civil Rights Project, a voting-focused advocacy group, pledged this week to “shine a light on any coordination” between the groups. Empower Texans did not return a request for comment on this story.

Dyes said the coordination is obvious. In October, his district signed on to a “culture of voting” resolution. Dyes said his office turned the signed resolution over to Empower Texans when that group submitted a records request, but that the document wasn’t posted anywhere online.

Then, a copy of the signed resolution appeared in the cease-and-desist letter Paxton’s office sent to Holliday ISD last month.

“They must be working together,” Dyes said. “Evidently somebody in Empower Texans gave them that resolution… because it’s not available anywhere else.”

Reynolds, the education advocate, agreed.

“I don’t believe that’s an accident at all. I think there’s an agenda behind it,” he said. “It’s so they can maintain the power they have in the Legislature and push vouchers. No one’s ever had a problem with public sector employees activating before.”

Some educators suspect that the new scrutiny on their election-related activities is motivated not by a concern for the law, but a concern that education-backed candidates could unseat many of the Legislature’s most conservative members. After lawmakers failed to deliver the school finance overhaul many sought during last year’s legislative sessions, educators pledged to come out to the polls in force this election cycle.

Educational advocates said those numbers had begun to scare those in power  — although last week’s primary results suggest educators’ numbers were not as high as some anticipated.

“I think it’s absolutely politically motivated,” said Laura Yeager, whose educational engagement group’s years-old voting resolution has been attacked for the first time this election cycle as suspicious and illegal. “It’s just so disappointing. Really, they should be encouraging people to vote…. This is not what our country is supposed to be about.”

Disclosure: Laura Yeager has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/03/16/texas-ken-paxton-illegal-electioneering-school-districts/.


Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Now that you’ve voted in the primaries…

Congratulations, you made it through the March 6 primaries!

Okay, now what?

I’m glad you asked! But before we get to the answer, let’s start with a 30,000-foot review of what went down last Tuesday.

Less than 24 hours before the polls opened on primary election day, the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had escalated his attempts to intimidate educators and suppress their vote. It was the latest assault by a band of politicians bought and paid for by Empower Texans, a funded by a handful of West Texas billionaires and obsessed with attacking educators and their allies.

Turns out, they had good reason to want to shut educators up.

When the dust cleared Wednesday morning, the anti-education organization and its accomplices lost more than a dozen races. As politics watchers surveyed the fallout, most reached similarly damning conclusions regarding the erstwhile political puppet-masters at Empower Texans. At the same time, 72 percent of pro-education candidates supported by ATPE PAC won their races outright, and another eight percent are headed to May 2018 runoffs as the top vote getters.

Compounding the troubles facing public education opponents, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed a public information request this week seeking to uncover communications between Empower Texans and Paxton, as well as state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and others “regarding possible coordination to intimidate voters.”

“Scare tactics, intimidation, and voter suppression have no place in our democracy,” said Beth Steven, director of TCRP’s Voting Rights Program. “Unfortunately, the Orwellian-named ‘Empower Texans’ apparently believes that by scaring educators away from teaching young people about civic participation, they will stem the tide of a new and upcoming generation of voters. More jarring, however, is the possibility that our state’s chief law enforcement official is enabling these dangerous efforts. We sent this request to uncover any communications between the Attorney General’s Office and groups that are trying to suppress the vote. We need to restore trust and faith in our democracy, and that begins with finding out who is attempting to keep Texans away from the ballot box — and why.”

The education community’s biggest antagonist, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, survived his primary intact – yet not necessarily unscathed. As Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey pointed out, more than 300,000 Texas Republicans voted against Patrick and for public education supporter Scott Milder. After losing the primary, Milder announced he would split his ticket in November to vote for the Democrat, Mike Collier, in that race.

Ultimately both Republicans and Democrats exhibited record turnout, but University of Texas Professor Joshua Blank warns against reading too much into how turnout on either side translates to performance in the November general election. Professor James R. Henson offered a more in-depth analysis in this post for The Hill.

But before we turn our focus to November, there’s still some unfinished business in the party primaries – and THAT’S what’s next!

We’re watching 17 races in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote. The top two vote getters in each of these races will show down in a May 22 runoff election to determine who will represent their party on the November ballot. Early voting for these races runs from May 14 to May 18. You may only vote in the runoff of the party in which you cast your primary ballot. For example, if you voted in the Republican primary, you can only vote in the Republican runoff. Likewise, if you voted in the Democratic primary, you can only vote in the Democratic runoff. You cannot vote in the Democratic runoff after voting in the Republican primary, or vice-versa.

Just as with the March 6 primaries, the outcomes of the May 22 runoffs are incredibly important. We encourage everyone to consult our CANDIDATES page and make plans to vote!


  • HD4: Former Rep. Stuart Spitzer (46%) vs. Keith Bell (26%)
  • HD8: Cody Harris (45%) vs. Thomas McNutt (39%)
  • HD13: Jill Wolfskill (39%) vs. Ben Leman (36%)
  • HD54: Rep. Scott Cosper (45%) vs. Brad Buckley (42%)
  • HD62: Reggie Smith (46%) vs. Brent Lawson (34%)
  • HD107: Deanna Metzger (45%) vs. Joe Ruzicka (27%)
  • HD121: Matt Beebe (29%) vs. Steve Allison (26%)


  • GOV: Lupe Valdez (43%) vs. Andrew White (27%)
  • SD17: Rita Lucido (49%) vs. Fran Watson (35%)
  • HD37: Rep. Rene Oliveira (48%) vs. Alex Dominguez (36%)
  • HD45: Rebecca Bell-Metereau (45%) vs. Erin Zwiener (31%)
  • HD46: Chito Vela (40%) vs. Sheryl Cole (38%)
  • HD47: Vikki Goodwin (34%) vs. Elaina Fowler (29%)
  • HD64: Mat Pruneda (42%) vs. Andrew Morris (39%)
  • HD109: Deshaundra Lockhart Jones (45%) vs. Carl Sherman (40%)
  • HD133: Sandra Moore (49.92%) vs. Marty Schexnayder (41%)
  • ED12: Suzanne Smith (48%) vs. Laura Malone-Miller (26%)

Runoffs typically see some of the lowest turnout, as far as elections go. It’s not unusual for runoffs to see half of the voter turnout typically seen in the primaries. The problem is that the enemies of public education are counting on educators continuing this trend and sitting at home May 22. There is a very real risk that your efforts to support pro-public education candidates in these races will be for nothing if educators do not show up again in force.

The bottom line: Educators made a statement on March 6. The job isn’t finished yet, but we’re getting there.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 9, 2018

Here is this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:

Tuesday was primary Election Day in Texas, and there is a lot to unpack. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has an inital analysis of the primary results here, and he highlights two major takeaways after Tuesday night: voter turnout increased and incumbents did well.

Voter turnout hit record highs in both parties. Like Exter points out in his post, a Texas Educators Vote Coalition statement praising  voter turnout in the primary election also notes that turnout increased across Texas by almost 700,000 voters compared to the most recent midterm primary election in 2014. The number of Democratic voters getting to the polls exceeded 1 million, while Republican voter totals topped off at more than 1.5 million. Both parties saw an increase in their voter turnout, with Democrats nearly doubling the total number of voters since 2014 (a number that represented a midterm primary record high for the party not hit since 1994). Republicans experienced a more modest increase in the largely red state, but the party’s turnout still represented record numbers.

As a proud member of the Texas Educators Vote Coalition, ATPE is thrilled to see the uptick in civic engagement and encourages educators and other voters to maintain that energy through November and future elections. ATPE was also excited to see a large percentage of ATPE-supported candidates prevail in their elections; Exter’s recap of the election has more on those results. While many are focused on the bigger races at the top of the ticket, it is important to consider all of the great candidates elected further down ballot. One thing is clear based on voter turnout, the energy built among educators, and the impact already felt: this movement is only beginning!


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final state plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), this week. The final plan has been in the making for quite some time. Here is a quick recap:

The final plan submitted this week reflects a number of revisions required by ED in their initial feedback. TEA’s press release announcing this week’s submission can be read here. To read the final plan or learn more about the Texas ESSA plan and related content, visit TEA’s ESSA web page. The plan must now receive a final review by Secretary Betsy DeVos, but she is not tied to a certain time period for revisions. On Monday, DeVos addressed members of the Council of Chief State School Officers at their annual conference, offering them “tough love” over what she considered state ESSA plans that lacked creativity and innovation.


ATPE submitted comments this week on new proposed Commissioner’s rules regarding certain out-of-state educators. These rules would exempt educators that are certified out of state and who meet certain qualifications from Texas required certification assessments as they work to obtain certification in Texas. The rule proposal stemmed from legislation passed last session. ATPE encouraged the commissioner to raise the standard from one to at least two years of experience in order for an out-of-state educator to benefit from the exemption. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann writes more about ATPE’s comments, the proposed rules, and context for the legislation here.


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin this week, this time to discuss “efficiency” at the classroom, campus, and district levels. A panel of invited witnesses was dedicated to each category. The classroom efficiency panel focused on blended learning, while the campus efficiency panel featured partnerships with charters and higher education. The district efficiency panel largely entailed discussions regarding charter schools. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and has a full report here.



Wrapping the Texas Primary Election

While dissecting yesterday’s election has only just begun, here are two immediate takeaways from last night.

First, turnout was up, and at least some — if not a lot — of that increased turnout was due to more educators embracing a culture of voting. Roughly 689,000 more Texans cast votes as compared to the last non-presidential primary in 2014. Approximately 200,000 more people cast a ballot in the Republican primary and just shy of 500,000 more people cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. Efforts by school districts, groups like Texas Educators Vote and Texans for Public Education, and many, many individual teachers created an energy which has unquestionably begun to translate into increased voter participation among the educator population. Educators should be proud of taking this first step, and should strive to continue to have even better engagement in future elections, including the upcoming runoff elections in many districts and the general election this fall.

The second takeaway: It was a good night to be an incumbent. With rare exceptions and regardless of partisanship or ideology, if you were an officeholder going into yesterday’s primary, you were still your party’s nominee coming out of the primary. Of the 59 contested races for a Texas House, Senate, State Board of Education, or statewide elected position where an incumbent was running against one or more challengers, the incumbent won in 50. That total increases to 51 if you count former longtime House member Trey Martinez Fisher, who won a primary against the current incumbent, as an incumbent. Two more incumbents could still prevail in the runoff election in May.

How did ATPE do?

Of the candidates the ATPE PAC invested in 72 percent won outright and another 8 percent are headed into runoffs as the top vote getters. Only 20 percent of the candidates ATPE PAC supported, including four challengers: Scott Milder, Jim Largent, Clint Bedsole, and James Wilson, did not prevail, despite running valiant races in defense of public education. Those are phenomenal win loss numbers for any PAC.

After a brief rest, ATPE and our pro-education allies will turn our attention the May 22 primary runoffs. But for today, congratulations to the winning candidates, condolences to those who did not prevail, good luck to those moving on to round two, and the most heartfelt of thanks to all of those Texans, including thousands upon thousands of active and retired educators, who took on their civic duty as voters!

For a complete list of results visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

Republican primary results can be found at this page.

Democratic primary results can be found at this page.

Texas primary election day reminders

Today is election day for the Republican and Democratic primaries in Texas. If you did not vote early, get out to the polls today! Here are some quick tips and reminders from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

  • Polls are open today until 7 p.m. tonight. You must vote in your assigned precinct unless your county offers countywide polling. Visit the Texas Secretary of State’s “Am I Registered” website to look up your precinct and polling location, or call your local registrar of voters to find out where you can vote.

  • You may vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary today – but not both! No matter which primary you choose, you can still vote for candidates of any party affiliation, including independent or third-party candidates, during the November general election.

    • Don’t forget to take your photo ID with you to the polls and any written notes or sample ballot you’ve created. You cannot use your cell phone while in the voting booth.

  • If you encounter any difficulty while attempting to cast your vote today, call the Election Protection Hotline at 866.OUR.VOTE.

  • Be prepared to share your input on the nonbinding propositions at the end of your ballot that will help shape the platform of the Republican or Democratic party this year. Learn more about them here.

  • If you early voted or are voting today in the Republican primary, consider participating in your precinct convention tonight after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate for upcoming party conventions and propose or vote on resolutions to help shape the party platform on issues such as public education. (The Democratic party no longer holds precinct conventions but has a different process for becoming a delegate.) Learn more about the process for both parties here, and read tips from a Republican party precinct chair here.

  • Finally and most importantly, if you’re still undecided on candidates, use our search page to find your candidates for Texas House and Senate, State Board of Education, lieutenant governor, and governor. View their profiles here on Teach the Vote to find out how they answered ATPE’s candidate survey, view incumbents’ voting records, and more.

Your vote is your voice. Don’t be silent today! Texas schoolchildren are counting on you to exercise your right to elect sound leaders who will stand up for public education. Many races in Texas will be decided by what happens in today’s primary election and not the general election in November. There will also be many close races in today’s primaries, which could be decided by only a handful of votes. Your vote may be the one that makes the difference!

Guest Post: Learn about Republican party precinct conventions

Party Precinct Conventions:
How educators can influence Texas politics from the grassroots up – it’s easier than you think!

By Mark Terry
March 2018

As an educator, you’ve done your civic duty; you have voted in the primary election and made your voice heard. And, you are to be applauded for exercising your right to vote, as a citizen and an educator! We are all hoping that our ‘teacher voices’ will be heard. If all 700,000 teachers across Texas vote…in a primary that usually has less than 2 million voters, we will definitely be heard. But, would you like to change the course of politics in a way that is lasting and takes far fewer dedicated educators? It can happen!

Yes! You can dramatically change the way both political parties view public education. Imagine: You can set the party platforms, you can help select public education friendly candidates, and you can play an active role in the leadership of your precinct-county-state party leadership! And, it only takes the amount of time you want to commit.

Let’s talk grassroots influence starting with the basics.

Mark Terry | TEPSA Deputy Executive Director

Click here to see Mark’s video about precinct conventions.

When you vote, you vote in your precinct; it’s kind of like your neighborhood. Each legislator’s district is made up of many smaller precincts, and House member districts are smaller than Senate member districts. For example, my precinct is 3035 within my Texas House District 98 and Senate District 12. Each precinct has a precinct chair. The chair is responsible for helping candidates of their choice to win election (more on that later) and for the Republican party, holding a “precinct convention” immediately after the primary election. Wait…I know you just rolled your eyes, keep reading.

When I was first ‘elected’ to be the chair of Precinct 3035, I thought, “No way! I put in enough time as an educator and I do not want hundreds of people yelling at me.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. Your precinct convention is held 30 minutes after the polls close at your primary polling place. You, gather a dozen or so seats together in corner, and you hold your convention. My first convention had 11 people, and four of them had my last name. Four more were neighbors who were public school educators. And, the election judge has all the directions and forms you require for your convention! Your lesson plans are ready!

What did we do at the precinct convention? Well, first we elected delegates to the senate district convention. (Check out my video where I show maps for precincts, house districts, and senate districts.) We also reviewed the party platform (Republican in my case) and adopted it with any resolutions brought forth. Here’s where it gets fun! No one had any resolutions except one person…me! One resolution stated, “We resolve that the State of Texas shall NOT use any public funds for private education.” The second resolution I proposed said, “We resolve that the Republican Party shall support and adequately fund Texas’s system of public education.” Both were unanimously passed! Those resolutions and the names of the senate district convention delegates we elected that night next went to the Tarrant County Republican Party for review.

I bet you never knew there were resolutions of this sort presented to the Republican Party. Why didn’t anyone see these resolutions after our precinct approved them? It’s simple. When the resolutions went to our senate district convention, the party’s Resolution Committee didn’t give them a hearing. Remember, you are fighting those who run the party. So, I made a combined resolution from the floor during our senate district convention. Even though I was told I wouldn’t get a second, I did…and the measure failed 57% – 43%. If there had been a few more delegates, the resolution would have gone to the Texas Republican Party’s state convention that summer.

This is where the conversation on education can change. Sounds like a bunch of rhetorical mish-mash to me, but elected officials look to the party platform for guidance. Delegates set the platform at the precinct level, at the county or senate district level, at the Texas political party level…and, at the national level. Those 11 propositions that you’ve seen on the Republican primary ballot this year…same thing. They are not binding, but your legislator looks to the results to justify his or her votes!

Do you see where this is going? How many educators do you think are in your precinct? I can tell you…there are plenty. More than 11? You bet! (And, you have access to the voter rolls, which you can compare to the school districts in your voter district.) What would happen if 25, 50, or even 75 educators showed up at each precinct convention and each passed the same resolutions? What if those same educators elected themselves as senate district convention delegates and then state convention delegates? You’d change the course of party politics in our state!

Is that all precinct chairs do? For many it is, but your sphere of influence just grew. For one, you’ll receive requests for donations from everyone running in your senate district. You’ll also be the first to see the nasty little rumors and comments about ‘the other candidates’ as folks from county commissioners, to family court judges and up, try to curry your favor. Most importantly, folks in your precinct look to you for who should receive their vote. Again, do you see where this is going? You can campaign for your chosen candidate, in my case a conservative Republican who supports public education. The candidate will give you all the information you need to make “block walks” around your neighborhood with friends to introduce your candidate (he or she will often go with you) and you can put together four or five educators to man an “educator phone bank” (remember the voter lists). The point is, you and a small group of your educator buddies have an inordinate impact on who is elected in your voting district.

One last thing, how do you think the Tea Party took over the Republican Party? Protests? Voting? Nope, it started at the precinct conventions. Who told me that? A Tea Party-elected legislator.

You can do this! We can do this! We must do this for the sake of children, teachers, and the soul of our state. If you want more information, or to be reassured you can actually make it happen, give me a shout at mark@tepsa.org or @tepsamark on Twitter.

Mary Terry with Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry with his legislator, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry is a former school principal and the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA). He serves as a Republican party precinct chair within House District 98 and Senate District 12.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 2, 2018

Happy Texas Independence Day! It’s also the last day of early voting in the Texas primaries. Read the latest election news and more in this week’s wrap-up from ATPE:

ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the last day for early voting in the 2018 Texas primary elections. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting is the most convenient way to cast your ballot, since you can visit any polling place in your county. On Tuesday, you’ll need to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location unless your county is participating in the Countywide Polling Place Program.

As a starting point, check out these tips on voting from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. You’ll find answers to common questions such as what forms of ID are required and whether you can bring notes into the voting booth with you.

Learn about the nonbinding propositions that will appear at the end of your primary ballot as a way for the state Republican and Democratic parties to develop their official platform positions on certain issues. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has the scoop on those propositions here.

Most importantly, if you’ve not voted yet, it’s not too late to explore our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, which are based on official records maintained in the House and Senate journals. Learn more about ATPE’s process for compiling and verifying voting records here. The candidates’ profiles also include their responses to our ATPE candidate survey, where available, links to the candidates’ websites and social media profiles, and more. We even share information about upcoming campaign-related events when requested by the candidates.

Remember that many candidates are looking for volunteers this weekend and especially for election day on Tuesday. Learn more about volunteering to help out a pro-public education campaign in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday.

If you are voting in the Republican primary, don’t forget about precinct conventions that will be happening Tuesday evening after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate to the party’s conventions and help further shape the party’s platform on education and other issues. On the Democratic side, there are no precinct conventions but you can sign up to participate in the party’s county-level conventions in April. Learn more in this blog post we republished last month from the Texas Tribune.

For additional election resources for educators, check out the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition. Kudos to everyone who has helped us create a culture of voting throughout the education community, despite a barrage of attacks from those who feel threatened by the prospect of more educators being actively engaged in the election process and voting for candidates who will stand up for public education.

If you’ve not voted yet, get out there today or make plans to vote on Tuesday! Remind your friends, too!


Over the past week, we’ve featured a series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters. We’ve been highlighting just a few of the specific reasons why educators’ votes in this primary election are going to shape the outcome of numerous debates when the Texas legislature meets again in 2019. If you’re still wondering what’s at stake on Tuesday, check out these posts by ATPE’s lobbyists on some of the hottest topics that the people you elect this year will be tackling during the next legislative session in 2019:


ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann testifying at a recent SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at the meeting and provided a report on the outcome of the board’s discussions. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more developments from SBEC in 2018.



Carl Garner

ATPE is asking Congress to protect teacher training and retention programs as it works on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on our blog this week about our efforts to ensure that Congress doesn’t strip out Title II program dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention. Read more about our effort being coordinated by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team and the letter sent earlier this week to Texas’s congressional delegation from ATPE State President Carl Garner.



Next-level election engagement: Volunteering for a campaign

With some politicians and special interest groups trying to discourage educators from voting and becoming politically active, many in the education community are more fired up than ever to get involved and help shape the future of politics in Texas. Participating in the critical primary elections happening now and voting for pro-public education candidates are essential. But some educators are looking for additional ways to help their favorite candidates come out on top on March 6. Contributing money to a candidate is nice, but not everyone has the financial means to do so. Volunteering on a campaign is a simple and effective way for individuals to make an even larger impact during the election.

Political campaigns can’t succeed without volunteer help. Volunteering is a great way to build a relationship with the people you elect to represent you. They’ll remember and appreciate your help during the campaign, and in many cases you’ll have developed a personal relationship with the candidate, the candidate’s family, and campaign staff who often become staff members of the officeholder after the election is over. ATPE members who have volunteered to help legislative candidates get elected in the past share that they have their lawmaker’s personal cell phone number on file and can call at any time during a legislative session to discuss bills or issues of concern. That’s a powerful connection!

What is the role of a campaign volunteer? Volunteers typically reach out to voters who are either undecided or already identified and targeted as being likely to vote for the candidate. Direct voter contact is essential for a candidate to win.

  • During election season, most candidates spend their weekends and evenings canvassing or block-walking, and they are always looking for volunteers to participate. Volunteers often hand out campaign literature and carry on brief, one-on-one conversations with likely voters who have been targeted in advance.
  • Phone banks are also used frequently as a way to call likely voters and remind them to get out to the polls. The calls are generally scripted and are focused on a group of voters already identified as those who are likely to be receptive to the call.
  • Some campaigns may also be looking for general or administrative assistance. This can be in the form of clerical work or office support at the campaign headquarters. The campaign might also be looking for drivers or simple help with tasks like picking up food for volunteers or delivering yard signs.
  • The need for volunteers is especially high during these last few days of the primary election, when candidates are also looking for volunteers to help out by holding signs and greeting voters at polling locations on election day.

    Former ATPE State President Cory Colby out at the polls in 2016

If you’ve never volunteered for a political campaign, the best way to learn is on-the-job training – just get out there and get your feet wet. Show up and ask how you can help your favorite candidate.

Use our Teach the Vote website to find profiles of your candidates, which usually include links to their campaign websites or other contact information. Visit the candidate’s social media pages or call the campaign to ask about volunteering events. Some candidates have also posted their campaign events with volunteer needs on our calendar here on Teach the Vote, so you’ll also find those events listed on their profile.

Volunteering for a political campaign is a fun way to meet people in your community, an excellent source of help for your favorite candidates, and far easier work than you might think. Happy volunteering!

ATPE In-Depth: Learn about incumbent legislators’ voting records

In this critical election year, ATPE is urging educators and all voters who support public education to participate in both the primary election happening now and the general election in November. We created our popular Teach the Vote website in 2011 with the goal of helping voters make informed choices at the polls by learning more about the candidates’ stances, specifically on education issues. Our profiles of all candidates running for Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, governor, or lieutenant governor can be explored using our convenient search tools.

When you pull up a candidate’s individual profile, you’ll find a wealth of factual information that the ATPE Governmental Relations team has collected about the candidate, including links to the candidate’s own website and social media profiles. Upon request by the candidate, we share information about upcoming campaign events being hosted by the candidate or on his behalf on our Teach the Vote events calendar. We also provide background information on the candidates, such as how long they’ve been in office and whether they’ve been endorsed by other groups that rate educators on the basis of their education stances. (You will not find any endorsements by ATPE.) All candidates who have a known email address are invited to participate in ATPE’s candidate survey, which asks questions pertaining to top education issues such as school funding, private school vouchers, student testing, educator pay, and more. We also invite candidates to supply a photo of themselves for our website. Not all candidates choose to participate in the survey, but all are invited, and ATPE does not edit the candidates’ survey responses in any way. (We don’t even correct typos!) Our goal is to make the candidates’ views and platforms available to you to help you make your own decisions on how to vote.

Another highly valuable component of ATPE’s candidate profiles featured on Teach the Vote is the voting record section. Throughout each legislative session, ATPE’s experienced lobbyists and support staff track thousands of bills that could have an impact on public education, following the legislation through every step of the legislative process. To give you a sense of how much work that entails, there were 7,033 pieces of legislation filed during the 85th legislature’s regular session in 2017. However, only 1,314 of those measures actually passed, according to the legislative tracking service known as Telicon. Since most bills don’t make it all the way through the process, and even fewer bills generate “record votes” as opposed to general voice votes, there are limited opportunities for Texans to find out how their state legislators voted on issues of interest.

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team in 2017

That’s where ATPE’s work behind the scenes comes into play. During a legislative session, ATPE’s lobbyists use our Teach the Vote blog to report on developments as they are happening at the capitol, often providing links to unofficial vote counts when major bills are acted upon by the Texas House or Senate. After the conclusion of the session, our team compiles a spreadsheet to record and analyze some of the most significant votes taken on education issues. Because unofficial tallies announced immediately after a vote can sometimes turn out to be wrong, we painstakingly check and double-check the votes taken, relying ultimately on what is printed in the official House and Senate journals as the final word on how a legislator voted. ATPE also shares some historical voting records for those legislators who have served more than one term in office.

One way that ATPE’s staff goes the extra mile to provide you insights on voting records is by also reviewing and sharing information about legislators’ comments entered into the House or Senate journal. It is fairly common for a legislator to vote one way and then ask for comments to be recorded in the journal signaling an intent to have voted differently on the bill. Also, some legislators are absent when a record vote is taken, as they may have temporarily stepped away from their desks. Often, those temporary absences are unavoidable – especially during a long legislative day – but sometimes the lawmaker’s leave is intentional. He or she may wait to see what the outcome is on a particularly controversial bill and then record a statement of intent in the journal after the fact. We at ATPE believe it’s important for voters to know the full picture when it comes to record votes, and that’s why we research and provide you with those additional insights on a legislator’s intent. If a legislator changes his vote, constituents should be empowered to know about that and to ask why.

In all cases, ATPE provides detailed information to document the record votes that we have collected and chosen to include on our Teach the Vote candidate profiles. We provide the bill number and author; we indicate whether the vote was taken during a regular or special session; we include the date of the vote; we identify who filed the motion being voted upon; we give a brief explanation of the significance of the vote; we share any comments entered into the journal by the legislator after the vote that would provide insights behind the vote; and most importantly, we share enough information to allow viewers of our website an opportunity to verify our reports by looking up official records of the vote maintained by the legislature itself.

For instance, all votes taken by the 85th legislature in 2017 and highlighted in our Teach the Vote candidate profiles include a link to the specific pages in the House or Senate journal in which the official vote is recorded. Next to viewing hard copies of the journals themselves, accessing digital copies of the journals maintained online by the House and Senate are the most reliable and independent way to find out how a legislator voted, and that’s what ATPE uses to fill out the voting record section of our Teach the Vote candidate profiles. Click the image to the left to view a sample excerpt from a legislator’s voting record as showcased on Teach the Vote.

Collecting and reporting on voting records in this detailed and accountable manner is a monumental task, but ATPE believes it’s important to help educators obtain factual, non-biased information about their own legislators’ voting record. There are other groups that share voting record information, and quite a few that like to publicize their “scorecards” of lawmakers based on certain votes taken, but we believe ATPE’s voting records are some of the most carefully researched and responsibly reported data you can find during an election season. I highly encourage you to check out our candidate profiles today and find out how your legislator voted on education issues.

Why March 6 Matters: Retirement

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at your retirement.

Everyone who decides to become an educator enters into a special agreement with the State of Texas. It goes something like this: If you devote your life to preparing our children for the future, Texas promises to be there for you when you retire at the end of a long career of service.

Only that promise is constantly under attack.

Let’s start with some basics. Your retirement is administered by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), which oversees the pension trust fund. The state and individual educators each contribute to the fund, and a team of professional staff supervise a diverse investment portfolio that makes up the body of the fund. These full-time agency employees ensure the fund’s health and safety. After paying for the cost of administration and benefits, the money from those investments is plowed right back into the fund.

TRS is structured as a “defined benefit” retirement plan, which means that an individual who pays into the plan is guaranteed a set amount of money each month in retirement that will last for the rest of his or her life. The more common type of retirement plan is a “defined contribution” plan, such as a 401(k). Unlike the promise of a stable monthly pension check upon retirement offered by a defined benefit plan, a defined contribution plan promises merely a set contribution into an employee’s retirement account while the individual is actively working. Investment returns on that account are subject to the whims of the market. The level of retirement that can be provided by those funds at the end of an educator’s career is not guaranteed. Under a defined contribution scenario, there is a real threat that a retired educator may outlive the retirement funds accumulated during his or her career, and end up with nowhere to turn for help — not even Social Security.

You may have noticed that most businesses in the private sector have gone the defined contribution route. The reason is largely because 401(k) plans are cheaper and don’t require dedicated staff to administer. Most are run for a profit by large Wall Street corporations, and advisers often have a financial stake in the investments they recommend. This leaves plenty of opportunities for others to make money, but little guarantee of stable retirement income for the retiree. The defined benefit plan administered by TRS is, by contrast, of great value to retirees, who can rest easier knowing that they will receive a guaranteed income for as long as they are alive.

As with most big pots of public money, the TRS pension fund has unfortunately become the focus of those looking to brag about shrinking government while making a few bucks for their friends.

In 2017, the Texas Senate confirmed Josh McGee as chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB), which oversees state pension systems including TRS. Prior to being appointed to that position by Gov. Greg Abbott, McGee worked as a professional advocate for converting public pensions to defined contribution plans that would reduce the money guaranteed to retirees, and his position at the helm of PRB naturally raised alarm bells.

Adding to the concern, lawmakers have filed a number of bills in 2017 and in prior legislative sessions that would likewise weaken TRS. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) – who made headlines recently with his objections to efforts to improve voter turnout among educators – filed a pair of bills last year aimed at converting TRS from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan or a hybrid of the two. Both bills died without a hearing, fortunately, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is keeping the idea alive as part of his interim charges for the Texas Senate to study before the legislature reconvenes in 2019.

Most troubling is recent news from the TRS Board of Trustees that it intends to vote to lower the assumed rate of return for the $147 billion pension fund from 8.0 percent down to 7.25 percent. The decision was based on observations of current market forces, and while fiscally prudent, it radically changes the plan’s outlook on paper. Like all pension plans, the TRS fund must be considered solvent before the legislature or board can consider any potential increases in benefits. With the lower assumed rate of return, TRS will head into the 2019 legislative session needing an additional $1.5 billion for future solvency, and they’ll be asking for that money from lawmakers who frequently are looking to cut spending, not increase it.

Politicians like Sen. Bettencourt frame their attacks on educators’ pensions by claiming the defined benefit structure is too expensive for the state to maintain into the future. In fact, the state’s share of an educator’s pension (at 6.8 percent) is less than half the teacher retirement contribution rate set by the next lowest state that is not paying into Social Security. The truth is that a more conservative assumed rate of return, coupled with a proper contribution rate, will guarantee TRS stays healthy well into the future.

The bottom line: Like public education as a whole, Texas gets a phenomenal bargain for what it spends, but more funding is necessary to fully realize the implicit promise made to educators.

Lawmakers will face tremendous pressure in 2019 from investors and politicians who want to gamble with teachers’ retirement. Unless Texans elect more pro-public education lawmakers and statewide elected officials, the legislature may very well look to your pension as an area to further cut corners. Texas will only keep its promise to educators if lawmakers respect educators’ voices at the polls in this pivotal election year.

Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on educators’ retirement and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election taking place now. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!