School districts walk fine line advocating referendums
The Miami-Dade school district has a $1.2 billion bond referendum going to voters next week, an initiative that superintendent Alberto Carvalho very much wants to see approved. (See his Twitter feed if you doubt it.)
As part of the campaign, the school district is sending home flyers with all students letting parents know exactly how the money would be spent if they approve the measure. As the Miami Herald reports, the district stops just short of advocating for the referendum, instead just providing educational information about the issue.
“As long as they’re not telling people how to vote, they’re on the safe side in advocating and promoting the issue,” Barry University political science professor Sean Foreman told the Herald. “I think you can even promote through the use of facts, as long as you’re not telling people, ‘Vote for this.’”
This is not just an issue in Miami-Dade. The Pasco school district, for instance, has informational flyers about its Penny for Pasco referendum in all schools, too. The flyer, which also got wide distribution through students, as well as back to school day, touts "Promises Made, Promises Kept." It also talks about what the renewed sales tax would do for the district in highly positive terms: It will "speed up job creation and bring new business to the county."
See the district's Penny for Pasco website, too, for another example.
It steers clear of endorsement, though, and that's the bright line that gets used when determining whether a government is using your tax dollars for a proper purpose during an election. Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino faced a complaint for distributing information to staff over Amendment 1 in 2008, but it was tossed out.
How far should school districts and other governments be able to go to promote election initiatives that they support? Are they going too far now?