UPDATED: This article has been updated since publication to include the AG’s lawsuit against Huffman ISD.

A leaked audio recording has revealed Huffman Independent School District’s superintendent urging school administrators to support all 16 anti-school choice Republicans in the GOP primary.

Now, Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the school district for illegal electioneering.

The audio was provided to Texas Scorecard on Thursday from an anonymous source who recorded it on a device during the meeting.

In the audio, Dr. Benny Soileau begins his address during a faculty meeting at the Hargrave High School cafeteria on February 7 by railing against Gov. Greg Abbott.

Soileau specifically accused Abbott of threatening the 25 House Republicans who initially opposed school choice at the beginning of the 88th session with primary challenges if they did not support his plan.

After Abbott’s supposed ultimatum, the House Republican opposition dropped to 21—the same number that eventually joined all House Democrats in voting to remove the governor’s school choice proposal from an education funding measure.

The measure in question is House Bill 1 from the 88th Legislature’s fourth special session, which included funding for schools as well as a small school choice program. When the House removed school choice, the whole measure—including the public school funding—was tabled.

Soileau referred to the 21 who voted to kill school choice as making a noble “sacrifice” by foregoing the public education funding to kill school choice.

The superintendent then urged the school’s administrators to back the “sweet 16” anti-school choice Republicans who decided to run again this election. Later, he tasked the district’s communications director with creating a list of the 16 to “hand out to our staff.”

The lawmakers Soileau was directly suggesting his faculty should support include Gary VanDeaver of New Boston, Keith Bell of Forney, Jay Dean of Longview, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Justin Holland of Heath, John Kuempel of Seguin, Hugh Shine of Temple, DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Glenn Rogers of Graford, Reggie Smith of Van Alstyne, Stan Lambert of Abilene, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Ken King of Canadian, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and Steve Allison of San Antonio.

“If we don’t support those 16 representatives in the upcoming election [and] we roll into the next session, [it’s] almost assured that we’re going to face a universal voucher bill that will change the face of public education for years to come,” insisted Soileau.

“The costs become astronomical to support it. And where does that money come from? It comes from the same pot of money that we get ours,” he continued. “So, I’m going to stress to you the importance of showing up to the polls and supporting those 16 individuals that have supported us.”

Soileau then pointed out that only 6 of the 16 have to lose for Republican lawmakers to be able to pass school choice in the upcoming legislative session. 

He walked through a plan he believed could help “alleviate” the problems.

“That new money—for us to get that new money—we have to have a good showing in this primary,” Soileau stated. “And I cannot stress that to y’all enough, how important it is that we show up to the polls and show them [sic].”

Shockingly, Soileau outright admits that the district has verged close to the line of electioneering in the past when it “had a cause like this that was that important.”

It is unclear if Soileau was only referring to Huffman ISD.

“We just got to make sure that we’re communicating to one another—that y’all hear this—that you pass the word to your friends and family, other educators. We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a good showing.”

In a subsequent question-and-answer portion, two staff members chimed in to give their own opinions.

One shockingly stated, “You HAVE to vote in the Republican Primary because this is Texas. So, it’s the only primary that matters because they’re going on to the general election. Then you can make your own decision about what to do in the general, but the primary is in the next few weeks, and you got to be ready.”

Instead of qualifying the staffers’ statement before agreeing, Soileau called it “spot on” and “exactly right.”

Soileau also went as far as to endorse the group Texans for Public Education. Their website tells people which candidates to vote for based on their record with school choice, which the group opposes.

Another school faculty member later asked Soileau if salary raises would happen in 2024. He confirmed they would not be due to certain “circumstances.”

While Soileau did not fully elaborate on what those circumstances were besides rising inflation, a second instructor chimed in to ask him about overhead. Soileau admitted the district was 3 percent overstaffed, spending roughly 83-84 percent of its budget on salaries.

This is despite the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute finding that Texas public education expenditures rose $33 billion from 2012 to 2022, with per-pupil spending going up by $5,500 over that same period.

News of the leak comes one day after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed lawsuits against Denison ISD and Castleberry ISD for allegedly electioneering.

Earlier this week, Paxton sued Frisco ISD for similar electioneering claims. And a week before that, he filed a suit against Denton ISD.

Texas Scorecard also reported on potential electioneering taking place at Sherman ISD.

The Republican primary will take place on March 5. Early voting began on February 20 and runs until March 1.

Texas Scorecard reached out to Huffman ISD for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.