Legislation has been filed in the Texas House that would force organizations like the Texas Association of School Boards to choose between continuing to do business with public schools or employing highly paid lobbyists who often advocate for policies that favor administrators and teacher unions over taxpayers and parents.

House Bill 3559, filed by Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) and joint authored by Terri Leo-Wilson (R-Galveston), stipulates that a school district “may not contract with or distribute public funds to a nonprofit association or organization that employs an individual required to register as a lobbyist.” This prohibition applies to payments for any kind of training, insurance product, or professional service.

The Texas Association of School Boards was founded in 1949 to distribute information to public school boards and engage in taxpayer-funded lobbying at the state capital. Today, they also offer legal services, opportunities for professional development, group insurance policies, and professional services like consulting for public relations and human resources.

Although TASB is a voluntary association, 100 percent of the 1,019 independent school districts in the state are members, a statistic that hasn’t changed in more than 30 years. According to data from the IRS, TASB’s annual revenue is around $76 million.

In January, TASB advised its members to allow gender-confused students to use the restroom designated for the opposite sex and obscure a student’s preferred name and pronouns if their parents object to their “gender identity,” prompting Harrison and several other lawmakers to ask Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to review TASB’s advice.

Shortly thereafter, the same lawmakers published a letter calling on school districts to drop their TASB membership, citing their recent legal advice and their delay in cutting ties with the National Association of School Boards, which in 2021 compared parents who protested at school board meetings to domestic terrorists.

Last summer, TASB sponsored a conference promoting critical race theory as a professional development opportunity for administrators and school board members. The price of admission to the “largest convening of Texas public education decision-makers” ranged from $425 to $625, an expense typically paid with taxpayer funds, as TASB implies by directing prospective attendees to “coordinate registration through their district’s central office.”

And in 2021, TASB declined to take any action regarding explicit books in school libraries after Gov. Greg Abbott sent them a public letter, in which he stated they “have an obligation to Texas parents and students to ensure that no child in Texas is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content while inside a Texas public school.” Instead, they denied having any regulatory authority in the matter and punted Abbott’s request to the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education.

According to Transparency USA, a nonpartisan organization that provides information on political spending, TASB paid lobbyists between $891,410 and $1,801,120 during the two years prior to the 2022 election, including between $93,800 and $187,589.98 to William Holleman, a lobbyist for the anti-school choice advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas.

While other lawmakers have filed legislation to outright ban taxpayer-funded lobbying in Texas, Harrison’s bill targets the financial transactions between school districts and the organizations that engage in lobbying activities on their behalf.

If the bill were to pass, TASB and other organizations that engage in lobbying would be forced to cease those activities if they wish to continue doing business with school districts, meaning district officials would have to hire a lobbyist directly or interact with lawmakers themselves to continue advocating for their preferred policies using taxpayer resources.

Previous efforts to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying have repeatedly fallen short in the Texas House, despite 94 percent of Texas Republican primary voters expressing support for such a law.

Darrell Frost

Since graduating from Hillsdale College, Darrell has held key roles in winning political campaigns, managed a state legislator's Capitol office, and taught at a classical charter school. He enjoys participating in outdoor activities, playing the harmonica, and learning about the latest scientific developments.