There’s potential for a lot of badness here.
Conservative political-action committees and GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are backing four Cy-Fair ISD trustee candidates in next week’s election for four positions that could sway control of the board in one of Texas’ largest school districts.
The conservative Cy-Fair for Liberty PAC gave contributions or spent money to support the campaigns of Todd LeCompte, George Edwards, Jr., Justin Ray and Christine Kalmbach — running for positions 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively. All four were also endorsed by Texans for Educational Freedom and by Cruz, who called the candidates “strong, passionate conservatives” in a news release.
All4CFISD, a PAC that describes itself as nonpartisan, has advertised and organized events for four other candidates.
All4CFISD gave contributions or made political expenditures for Tonia Jaeggi, Julie Hinaman, Leslie Martone and Frances Ramirez Romero for positions 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively, according to campaign finance reports.
The campaign involvement by these dueling political groups and elected officials is bringing a sharp political tone to nonpartisan school board trustee races across Texas. The influence of these outside political groups is part of a growing national trend as school board races have emerged as the latest battleground for intensely partisan rights over COVID masking, book banning and even LGBTQ issues.
Rice University political science professor Robert Stein has conducted election surveys for Houston area school districts and said he began to see PACs endorsing school board candidates in the early 2000s.
Stein said local school board election debates have gotten so personal and intense that the conversations often come down to who’s on what side.
“We don’t get to the merits of excluding certain curriculum, we just get: ‘they’re on our and you’re on their team.’ We are not having a serious conversation about how people learn.”
Representatives of the Cy-Fair for Liberty PAC did not respond to requests for comment. The organization’s website calls “for public schools to end all teaching of immoral and anti-American values.”
All4CFISD chairman Mark McShaffry said until last year he didn’t know the political affiliation of any candidate running for school board.
“There’s a lot of people passionate about this school board on both sides and to be honest with you, it’s a lot more heated than what it used to be,” McShaffry said.
Stein said the area’s growing diversity may lead to more partisan discourse during school board election campaigns.
“There will be candidates who will go after books, same sex bathrooms and (transgender students) participating in sports … but at the heart of this is a fundamental problem that we haven’t come to address, which is these communities are simply not like they were 20 and 30 years ago. The needs, the demands and the representation — that’s where the disconnect is,” Stein said.
Houston Landing covered this a few weeks ago, I just didn’t get to writing about it at the time. The Book-Loving Texans’ Guide to Texas School Board Elections called Cy-Fair “the board election to watch in November”. I strongly encourage you to read both, they cover a lot of ground.
The Book-Loving Texans’ Guide also provides a bit of hope, in that there are two engaged non-partisan parents’ groups (Cypress Families for Public Schools and Cy-Fair Strong Schools) that sprung up after the extremists swept three elections there in 2021 to counter those efforts. That’s exactly what is needed, because while Cy-Fair is diversifying as it is growing, the district remains Republican turf, at least in my estimate based on that map. Zoom in enough on the current State House map, and CFISD overlaps two Democratic districts (HDs 135 and 148) and four Republican ones (HDs 126, 130, 132, and 138). I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’d put money on CFISD being red in the last however many even-year elections. As such, while Democratic groups can play a role in parts of that district, the all-encompassing efforts should come from non-partisan groups like those two.
Which, unfortunately, still gives the advantage to the wingnuts. Read the Guide for more details on that, but in some ways it’s the basic problem of firing people up versus educating and persuading them. Hopefully the forces of good are fired up as well. Whatever happens here, we’ll need for it to happen again next time, and we’ll need for that fight to be taken to other places, like Katy ISD. If you live in Cy-Fair, make sure you vote for the good guys in these races, and make sure you tell your friends and neighbors about it too.