Public-sector unions contributed nearly $160 million to political candidates in 2018

Welcome to the Friday, October 4, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Exploring campaign contributions from public-sector unions
  2. Houston school board to elect four members, faces possible replacement by state education commission
  3. What’s the Tea?

A deep dive into public-sector union spending in 2018

Public-sector unions contributed $159.8 million to candidates for federal, state, or local office in 2018, according to campaign finance reporting at both the federal and state levels.

The five states in which political candidates received the most contributions from public-sector unions were:

  • California, where unions contributed $74.1 million, or 46.4% of the nationwide total.
  • Illinois, where unions contributed $14.2 million, or 8.9% of the nationwide total.
  • Oregon, where unions contributed $10.6 million, or 6.6% of the nationwide total.
  • Minnesota, where unions contributed $10.4 million, or 6.5% of the nationwide total.
  • New York, where unions contributed $9.8 million, or 6.1% of the nationwide total.

The total contributions from these five states totaled $119.0 million, or 74% of the nationwide total. Contributions from public-sector unions in the other 45 states represented 26%.

These figures are based on resources gathered by the National Institute on Money in Politics, and reflect contributions by public-sector unions to political candidates. They do not account for unions’ satellite spending, which is political spending associated with an election but not directly made to, or controlled by, a specific candidate.

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Houston school board to elect four members, faces possible replacement by state education commission

Our coverage of school board elections includes the 200 largest school districts by enrollment and all school districts that overlap with the 100 largest cities by population. One of this year’s notable school board races is in Houston—home of the nation’s seventh-largest school district.

Voters will decide four of the nine seats on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board of education. Five candidates are running for each of the two open-seats and each of the two incumbents running for re-election faces a single challenger. If no candidate receives a majority of the Nov. 5 vote, a runoff election will be held between the top two finishers.

The HISD school board currently faces the possibility of being replaced by a state-appointed board of managers. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath could decide to replace the board for either of two reasons: 1) either as a result of a Texas Education Agency (TEA) investigation into the board’s governance or 2) as a result of poor academic performance ratings at a high school in the district. Morath was appointed commissioner of education by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in January 2016.

A TEA investigation recommended in August 2019 that the state appoint a board of managers for HISD. It cited the elected board’s “inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.” Lawyers for the district filed a lawsuit challenging that recommendation August 16.

State law requires that the commissioner of education either close a school that receives more than five consecutive failing grades or replace the district’s board of education. After preliminary ratings of the district’s schools were released, it was determined that one HISD high school received a failing grade for the seventh year in a row. The school board voted September 5 to appeal the preliminary rating. The HISD had received a waiver from state ratings for the prior year due to Hurricane Harvey.

If the state appoints a board of managers, elected school board members would not have any power until the elected board was reinstated, although they could participate as non-voting representatives. As of the 2018-2019 school year, HISD was the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest school district in the United States, serving 209,772 students in 280 schools with a budget of $2.04 billion.

HISD school board elections are officially nonpartisan. Heading into the 2019 election, all nine HISD trustees are Democrats, according to the Houston Chronicle. The last day to register to vote is October 7. Early voting will run October 21 through November 1.

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What’s the Tea?

Last week’s What’s the Tea? question—Have you ever voted in a special election?—kicked off what will be a series of questions asking Brew readers whether they’ve ever participated or done certain things related to politics and policy, such as attending or speaking at governmental meetings or signing candidate or initiative petitions.

Like with all our What’s the Tea? questions, there’s no right or wrong answer, and your responses are completely confidential.

So, let’s start hyper-local. Have you ever attended a school board meeting?

  1. Yes
  2. No