Fort Bend ISD Most Likely Violates Federal Law by Incentivizing Voter Turnout

“The combination of using employees being able to wear jeans as an inducement to vote, along with jeans passes having a pecuniary value for employees likely violates federal law,” said an attorney who prefers to remain anonymous.

BREAKING: FORT BEND COUNTY, TX– Schools in FBISD treaded over ethics and “likely violated federal law” by indirectly incentivizing staff and the parents of students to vote in a calculated effort to spike the voter turnout for the new VATRE bill on the ballot.

“The combination of using employees being able to wear jeans as an inducement to vote, along with jeans passes having a pecuniary value for employees likely violates federal law,” said an attorney who prefers to remain anonymous.

At the start of early voting, FBISD offered “jeans passes,” which some campuses charged employees money to purchase, as a reward for staff individual or collective voting actions or outcomes.

Jeans passes alone do not possess a monetary value, but when these are being sold by campuses, it becomes a financial incentive, as the district offered something that had a stated monetary value in some campuses for election outcomes.

Furthermore, FBISD incentivized students to urge their parents to vote with “prizes.” When kids encouraged their family members to vote, and returned to campus with an “I voted” sticker, they were allowed to grab prizes (pencils, gum and so on).

While these prizes don’t cost a fortune, there is no minimum amount that cannot be used as an inducement to vote. Even if an item is worth one penny, this practice is still not acceptable legally.

Additionally, FBISD hired a consultant for just under the $50 thousand threshold that requires Board of Trustees approval, and is spending money on yard signs and digital ads while claiming the district has no money to give teacher raises or hire officers.

Legally, the school district can’t tell anyone how to vote, and it hasn’t done this; yet it has flirted with the line of what it can and cannot do to incentivize voting by using potential monetary rewards to induce employees to vote and to induce children to pressure their parents to vote. This certainly crosses an ethical line, and it potentially crosses a federal legal line.

Early voting started on Monday, with these FBISD initiatives already in play. Concerned parents, nearby residents and faculty members urged the administration to make a key change: to stop the inducement of voting.

Yet instead of ending this unethical practice, the administration opted to ensure they couldn’t be accused of monetarily influencing the election. FBISD instructed campuses to not offer jeans passes for purchase, rather than ending jeans inducements. For children, the district is changing their incentive to something not monetary, like extra recess time.

These changes were made after early voting had already started.

The bill that has motivated FBISD to stomp over ethical conduct is Fort Bend County’s Proposition A, a Voter Approval Tax Rate Election, commonly known as VATRE. This bill, the first of its kind on a ballot in Fort Bend, must be voted on by Fort Bend ISD residents.

The school district urgently desires more money, both through new revenue and reductions. Their plan for new revenue is the VATRE.

The VATRE bill would consist of a $38 million dollar tax increase. The Fort Bend County tax rate is dropping due to property tax savings, which the state legislator decreased from $1.14 to $0.94 per a hundred dollars of property value. If the VATRE passes, this number will bump back up to $0.98, totalling $38 million across the county.

If it passes, it will provide funding for safety measures, including assigning police officers to every elementary school campus (currently, in FBISD, every middle and high school has a stationed officer); allow increased compensation for teachers, with raises starting pay at $60 thousand; allow for long-serving staff to receive four years-of-service supplemental pay for their commitment and dedication to the school district; and maintain Programs of Choice.

Thus, while FBISD hasn’t directly crossed the line of telling people how to vote, everybody knows the way employees will vote on it because they have a guaranteed pay raise. If every employee is incentivized to vote, they’re almost certainly going to vote “yes” on the tax rate increase.

In fact, the administration bragged about increasing employee/voter turnout in May, when a $1.6 billion bond was on the ballot. Employee/voter turnout is usually about 8%, and FBISD’s initiatives increased this number to about 25%.

After this vote, concerned residents made public comments that vendors and employees voted in favor of the bond, and that potentially changed the outcome of the vote. Those against the bond were outvoted.

The VATRE bill poses a similar situation, where employees have incentive to vote. This is the intention of FBISD, which wants a tax increase to pass so it can get additional taxpayer dollars. Naturally, most district employees also favor the bill, because they would receive a pay raise.

Worried FBISD residents and faculty have urged the school district to cease inducement to halt a predetermined outcome of this bill. Because the district’s incentivization program was active during the beginning of early elections, these concerned citizens requested the administration send out communication stating that an error was made.

Changing the program silently will not change faculty and students’ belief that they will receive incentives for votes or pressuring their family to vote. Concerned citizens have requested that the administration publicly announce their error and state that nothing of monetary value will be used as an incentive urging them to vote.

However, the school district disagreed with these recommendations, allowing half of the early voting week to pass before its decision to issue a public statement at some point today.

Fort Bend ISD Board President Judy Dae provided Katy and Fort Bend Christian Magazines with the following statement:

“I learned this past weekend that administrators had created incentives intended to encourage staff to exercise their right to vote. It is my understanding that it was subsequently discovered that one of the campuses was selling ‘jean passes’ that would permit staff to wear jeans on Wednesdays,” Dae said.

“I am unaware of any public statement about this one campus, but after further investigation, it was discovered that jean passes were being sold at other campuses. To clarify, the incentive plan does not include giving staff jean passes in exchange for exercising their right to vote,” Dae continued.

“Instead, campuses would earn jean privileges if an aspirational percentage of campus staff voted. It is additionally my understanding that the administration has since discontinued the practice of selling jean passes to avoid any infusion with its voting drive initiative.”

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