In past election cycles, the State Board of Education (SBOE) has flown under-the-radar compared to high-profile offices like Congress or Governor. But not in 2022. 

This election cycle, special interest groups such as Charter Schools Now and Texans for Educational Freedom have flooded South Texas with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of mailers, robocalls, and text messages.

They succeeded in electing Republican LJ Francis to the open seat on SBOE District 2, which spans from Hidalgo County to Matagorda County.

The amount of influence Mr. Francis will wield on this 15-person board cannot be understated. The SBOE sets the standards for what teachers teach and what students learn. The SBOE approves instructional materials for use not only in Texas, but also nationwide given Texas’ large textbook market. It also holds veto power over whether new charter schools will open in Texas, among other duties.

As a former Democratic candidate for SBOE District 2, I cannot help but express concern for the board’s rightward shift under Mr. Francis, who will expand the GOP majority to 10-5.

I am concerned that debates over Critical Race Theory, which Mr. Francis has railed against, will derail teaching the truth about difficult subjects, like civil rights, in our social studies curriculum. 

I am concerned that Mr. Francis conflates social emotional learning with brainwashing.

I am concerned that Mr. Francis will approve the charter school chains his donors wish to get approved.

A note for the future: Heritage Classical Academy is a charter school chain that has been denied 3 times by the SBOE. This year, its board chair has donated $52,500 to Texans for Educational Freedom, which has spent nearly $300K electing Mr. Francis.

Will Mr. Francis approve or reject Heritage Classical Academy if and when it comes up for a 4th vote?

Despite our partisan differences, I hold hope that officeholder Mr. Francis will be different than candidate Mr. Francis.

I hope Mr. Francis will revise our statewide curriculum with attention to the facts. In doing so, I hope he will appoint qualified, non-partisan experts to workgroups to determine which historical figures are necessary to learn and which scientific topics belong in the core curriculum.

I hope Mr. Francis will help us move toward a 21st-century curriculum with a renewed focus on computer science, ethnic studies, and dual language programs.

I hope Mr. Francis will support initiatives that reduce administrative load on our teachers, such as streamlining the Reading Academies to become more flexible and effective.

Serving on the SBOE is considered a volunteer, part-time venture, but it nonetheless demands intense work and dozens of hours per month. It’s a true public service calling, and I respect Mr. Francis, a first-time candidate like myself, for dedicating himself to this cause.

In the meantime, we constituents must continue advocating to Mr. Francis on the issues that matter to our Texas students, parents, and school employees. Our public schools depend on it.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Thomas Ray Garcia, a writer, educator and entrepreneur based in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Garcia, pictured above, was a candidate in the 2022 Democratic Party primary for State Board of Education District 2. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Garcia can be reached by email via: [email protected].

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