A Texas state senator is taking aim at a Houston-area school district for incentivizing teachers to vote for a tax increase.
Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston called out Fort Bend Independent School District, after it was reported that the district may be incentivizing its teachers to vote for the tax rate increase on the November ballot.
Such incentives may violate federal law.
“ISDs must be careful to NOT violate the law or the spirit of the law in coming anywhere close to providing a pecuniary interest as an incentive for students, families, or employees to vote in any election,” wrote Bettencourt on X.
According to a report from Katy Christian Magazine, at the beginning of early voting, FBISD offered “jeans passes” to reward staff members’ for voting. While jeans passes do not hold monetary value in themselves, some FBISD campuses have charged employees money to purchase them.
In another announcement obtained by Katy Christian Magazine, the district incentivized students with prizes to urge their parents to vote. If a kid returned to school with an “I voted” sticker, they could grab prizes.
After early voting started, concerned parents, nearby residents, and faculty members urged the FBISD administration to change the incentives. FBISD soon instructed campuses to no longer offer jeans passes for purchase. For children, the district changed the incentive to prizes without monetary value.
Despite the district’s attempt to change the incentives, Bettencourt said he would ask Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to review the matter.
FBISD Director of Strategic Communications Sherry Williams told Texas Scorecard that the district did not violate the law to encourage voting.
“FBISD adheres to the highest standards of integrity. It is not a violation of law to encourage voting, a cornerstone act of American civic participation that is embedded in our society,” said Williams. “Nonetheless, so that there is absolutely no confusion or misunderstanding whatsoever, we have pivoted away from encouraging the act of voting through non-monetary incentives.”
Earlier this year, FBISD passed a $1.26 billion bond. With interest, FBISD property taxpayers are set to pay $2.6 billion—double the dollar amount shown on the ballot.
The new tax increase proposition would ratify a property tax rate of $0.9892 for every $100 of valuation. According to the district, the average taxpayer with a home valued at $307,630 would receive a tax bill of $2,677 per year.
If the VATRE passes, the district will collect an additional $38 million.
The district says the additional money would go toward pay for staff and teachers as well as armed security at all elementary schools.
Early voting runs through November 3. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.