For its part, the Texas Association of School Boards is unapologetic—either for its support of the National School Boards Association (which called on the Biden administration to treat parents speaking out as “domestic terrorism and hate crimes” in 2021), or for its advocacy of political goals that the vast majority of Texans don’t share.
What makes it worse is that taxpayers are funding TASB and its bad ideas. The membership dues that each school district pays to TASB are used, in part, to hire lobbyists who advocate for more spending and less accountability for Texas public schools—a vicious cycle that will only end when taxpayers say they’ve had enough.
Lobbying is a form of petitioning the government. Yet while private citizens and groups of private citizens are afforded the right to petition for redress of grievances, the same entitlement does not extend to government itself. As my colleague Chuck DeVore notes, “government has no rights—only people have rights— government has powers.”
Yet in Texas, local governments spent as much as $75 million on lobbying the Texas Legislature in the 2021 session. This figure excludes the salaries and activities of in-house lobbyists, also known as intergovernmental relations personnel, and certain other types of publicly-funded advocates.
Average citizens can feel their own voices being drowned out. Governmental entities spend public money to hire registered lobbyists to advocate for and against specific legislative proposals. These pro-government advocacy efforts are routinely at odds with private citizens’ liberties and finances.
Let’s look more closely at TASB. It’s true that eventually, after months of defending NSBA and its calls to crack down on dissenting parents, TASB ended its membership in NSBA. But even then, TASB couldn’t bring itself to side with parents. Instead, it harumphed that “NSBA’s internal processes and controls do not meet the good governance practices that TASB expects and requires in a member organization.”
And still, TASB continues to lobby against things Texas parents very clearly want—such as a say in what their kids are learning in school.
TASB’s legislative agenda for the current session includes enforcing its own monopoly: “TASB calls upon the Texas Legislature to prevent any transfer of public funds using vouchers, education savings accounts, or corporate tax credits to private schools or individuals, including the expansion of virtual instruction by corporations.”
It even opposes more charter schools—which are public schools that operate with boards: “The Legislature should increase the transparency and accountability of charter schools and other educational institutions receiving public funds…”
That transparency and accountability only go one way, of course; the group will lobby to reduce accountability (especially in the form of rating campuses and districts).
How do the Texans who fund all these lobbyists feel about these issues? They overwhelmingly support parental empowerment, public school transparency and creating a system that funds students, not systems. The strongest supporters of parent empowerment are black and Latino Texans. The only subset of voters that opposes it is white Democrats.
What’s more, government agents who lobby duly elected representatives are detracting from the ability of private persons to speak with and influence those same elected officials. Registered lobbyists have the means and the motive to make campaign contributions to the elected class, either before or after the session, which creates opportunities for impropriety and raises thorny questions.
Nothing prevents local officials from picking up the phone and contacting their legislators. Those officials enjoy the same constitutional rights the rest of us enjoy. But taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund the corps of well-heeled lobbyists that wander through the Capitol every other year.
This session, it’s critical that lawmakers ban local governments from using tax dollars to hire contract lobbyists. There is no reason that governments should be spending public money to grow government—to the detriment of their constituents.