“I will vote in support of public education in the interest of the more than 5 million Texas school children.”
That’s the oath Texas Educators Vote shopped to public school districts across the state last year as part of the teacher coalition’s campaign for school board resolutions that promote voting among eligible students and staff. The group’s pledge, and the idea that public schools might promote voting to the extent that they even transport students and staff to and from the polls, was so hyper-partisan and offensive to some Texas conservatives that they asked state Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare school district attempts to encourage voting illegal “electioneering.”
That resulted in a nonbinding legal opinion Paxton issued last month, in which he questioned whether school districts that promote or facilitate voting are serving any “educational purpose.” AsQuorum Report first noted last week, Paxton’s opinion gave the arch-conservatives at Empower Texans just the creative spark they needed to launch the “ISD Whistleblower Project,” which asked teachers to confidentially rat out educators who dare to promote voting on campus.
This week Twitter responded with the #blowingthewhistle hashtag, which public education supporters used in thousands of tweets to mock Empower Texans while simultaneously elevating public school teachers as selfless, unsung heroes. “I am #blowingthewhistle on teachers who sneak and give students lunch money when their accounts are at $0,” tweeted Devon Bradley, a teacher at Crosby Elementary School. Non-teachers chimed in, too. “I’m #blowingthewhistle on my wife for spending every free moment for the better part of last year helping one of her Kindergarten students get hearing aids,” wrote @ColinHildinger.
@EmpowerTexans I’m #blowingthewhistle on my fellow teacher friend who takes time out of her weekends to take Senior pictures for free for students who can’t afford them so that they can have the same special Senior experiences as everyone else.
The campaign to quash educator-driven efforts to encourage voter turnout comes from conservative lawmakers, such as Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt, who have advocated for private school vouchers at the Texas Legislature. In his December letter to Paxton asking for an AG opinion, Bettencourt wrote that school districts encouraging staff to sign the “I will vote in support of public education” pledge were “coercing government employees to ascribe an oath to a particular political viewpoint.” Even districts that offer seemingly benign and cost-free incentives for voting, like letting staff with “I Voted” stickers wear jeans, were “compelling the speech of government employees,” Bettencourt alleged.
Beth Stevens, voting rights director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, accused conservatives of trying to kill simple get-out-the-vote efforts by conflating them with improper, partisan electioneering. “Of course we don’t want partisan electioneering in our schools,” she told the Observer in a statement. “But make no mistake: this conflation is no accident. It is a purposeful, malicious attempt to suppress the vote in Texas.”
Thanks to Bettencourt’s complaint, Texas Educators Vote tweaked its so-called educator’s oath to vote, which now reads: “I will vote in support of the more than 5.4 million Texas school children.”
Because, as it turns out, asking public school teachers to “vote in support of public education” is just too controversial for some Texas conservatives these days.