As Election Day approaches, Sherman Independent School District is attempting to get teachers out to vote by incentivizing them with “jeans days.” 

Additionally, Texas Scorecard received a tip from an anonymous source that Sherman ISD Superintendent, Dr. Tyson Bennett, allegedly spoke to teachers around the district, informing them they need to vote for candidates who will fund public schools and not private schools. 

Bennett previously interviewed with a local outlet, KXII, where he expressed disapproval of Gov. Greg Abbott’s push for school choice. 

In the interview, Bennett vehemently opposed school choice saying, “We do not want to divert public funding away from public schools into private entities that do not have any kind of accountability within our community.” 

In an email shared with Texas Scorecard, Sherman ISD officials told teachers if they wear an “I Voted” sticker to school, they would be allowed to wear jeans for the day. 

“The primaries can determine how much funding local schools receive, whether state lawmakers will increase salaries for teachers, or allocate additional dollars to support unfunded mandates for school safety and security,” reads the email. “To encourage voting, Sherman ISD will allow staff to wear jeans any day you wear an ‘I voted sticker’ between Feb. 20 – March 5.”

Texas Scorecard was also made aware of an email sent out to district staff and teachers from superintendents in Grayson and Fannin counties. 

The superintendents encouraged “all registered voters to do their homework and learn about the candidates and their positions,” adding that it is also “important to find ways to engage with candidates and ask about their positions on education.”

“After you vote, encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to go to the polls. You have influence with others, even if it’s just a small group. The future of our public schools — and our state — could well depend on how many voices are heard,” the email concludes. 

Christine Welborn, executive director of election security organization Advancing Integrity, told Texas Scorecard that incentivizing teachers with a jeans day could be considered a violation of the law.

“Not only is this potential electioneering, it also sounds a lot like paying people to vote. If the ability to wear jeans is considered a thing of value, it is a violation of the law.” 

In October, Texas Scorecard reported on Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston calling out Fort Bend ISD for incentivizing its teachers to vote for the tax rate increase on the November ballot. 

According to reports, at the beginning of early voting, Fort Bend ISD allegedly offered jeans passes to reward staff members for voting in the November election. 

Sherman ISD’s chief communications officer, Meghan Cone, confirmed with Texas Scorecard that the superintendent and other district leaders have been visiting schools and they are using jeans as an incentive for voting. 

“​​Our Sherman ISD superintendent and other district leaders have been visiting our schools to provide an update on public school funding, encourage participation in the primary elections, and discuss the district’s plans to apply for the Teacher Incentive Allotment to maximize teacher salaries,” said Cone. “These presentations do encourage staff to be educated and active voters. These presentations do not tell employees how to vote or who to vote for.”

“The superintendent specifically discusses that education is one of many important topics or issues that may impact how people vote,” she added. “Sherman ISD has worked to develop a culture of voting in our district and community for several years, and the jeans incentive is a continuation of those efforts. The decisions made by our elected leaders affect our students, teachers, families, and community. Our outreach is appropriately focused on encouraging everyone to be educated and active voters.”

Sherman ISD isn’t the only school district to be called out for possible electioneering. 

On Wednesday, Texas Scorecard reported on Castleberry ISD’s Superintendent Renee Smith-Faulkner instructing the district’s “administrative leadership team” to vote according to a voter guide from the Castleberry ISD Retired Teachers Association. 

Texas Scorecard also reported on Denison ISD’s Superintendent David Kirkbride sending out an email to district employees encouraging them to vote for candidates who “support public education” while decrying the governor’s push for school choice for Texas students last week.  

“Individual citizens can and should use their own time and resources to electioneer for candidates. They cannot, however, use public resources or their power as an employer to influence voting,” said Welborn.

Both Castleberry ISD and Denison ISD are now being sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton for what he said is “illegal electioneering.”

Government school officials accused of illegal electioneering can be reported to local law enforcement; to the Texas Ethics Commission, which is authorized to impose fines for election code violations; and to the Texas Education Agency, which can revoke educators’ certifications. 

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.