Principals of Texas high schools have enough on their plates, and asking the state for voter registration forms should not be another responsibility, according to a statewide voice for high school principals.
In September the Texas Civil Rights Project, a legal advocacy organization, released a report that found most high schools in the state are not complying with a more than 30-year-old law that requires principals to request voter registration forms for eligible students at least twice a year.
“It’s not that principals aren’t civic-minded,” said Archie McAfee, executive director of the Texas Association of Secondary Principals, which advocates for school administrators. “They’re saddled with graduation rates, dropout rates, test scores, school safety and all those things.”
Over the course of four years the TCRP found that about 6 percent of public and private schools complied with the state law.
In 2016, 198 out of 1,428 public high schools in Texas requested voter registration applications from the secretary of state, and none of the nearly 1,800 private high schools in Texas requested applications.
Five of Leander ISD’s high schools were included in the 6 percent of public and private schools to comply with the state law. According to data from the TCRP, the district requested 2,280 forms in 2016 to distribute to eligible students among Cedar Park, New Hope, Rouse, Vandegrift and Vista Ridge high schools. Tom Glenn High School opened in fall 2016 for ninth and tenth graders only.
According to LISD, a social studies curriculum coordinator requests the forms for the year, which are sent directly to each campus’s government and economics teachers to distribute to eligible students. The campuses also sent out reminders to register for both the fall and spring election dates.
“We take great pride in our Leander ISD high schools for preparing students not only for college and career, but also for citizenship,” LISD spokesperson Corey Ryan said. “We look forward to continuing to work with our social studies teachers, principals and students in supporting the American democratic process.”
Requesting a change
According to the September report the TCRP has asked the secretary of state office to change the procedure over the years.
“Because the evidence could not be more clear that the overwhelming majority of high school principals, consumed with the education of young Texans, simply never request forms, we suggested that the SOS scrap that request process and affirmatively mail forms to high schools instead,” TCRP officials wrote in the report.
In a news release Sept. 15, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said he is working with his team to examine his office’s internal policies and procedures.
“The secretary’s objective is to identify and remove administrative burdens to ensure voter registration education materials are delivered in a timely manner and without needless requirements or outdated procedures,” the release stated.
For McAfee, there are more pressing matters principals—and the media—should be focusing on, including graduation rates and dropout rates.
He said the responsibility for educating students about voter registration should fall on parents, not the schools.
“I learned my civic responsibility in voting from my parents,” he said. “They didn’t tell me this was important. They showed me it was important [by voting].”