EducationElections 2022Statewide NewsConservative Education PAC Touts Success in State Board of Education Contests

Candidates promising to oppose “woke” curricula and Critical Race Theory captured more seats on the state board that sets standards for public schools.
December 29, 2022
A political action committee previously dedicated to electing conservatives to school boards found success in State Board of Education (SBOE) races in 2022 and helped flip a traditionally Democratic seat in South Texas to Republican control.

Founded in 2021, Texans for Educational Freedom Political Action Committee (PAC) waded into the debate over elements of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public school materials and set out to specifically support candidates opposing CRT and “anti-American agendas and curriculum.”

One of several PACs formed in recent years with a focus on education, Texans for Educational Freedom has raised over $1 million. Donors include real estate developer Richard Weekley and state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands).

“We are the largest conservative school board focused PAC in the state of Texas,” President Christopher Zook told The Texan.

While similar group Patriot Mobile Action targeted school board races in the Fort Worth area, until this year, Texans for Educational Freedom assisted candidates in the greater Houston area.

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After helping candidates win in the Cypress-Fairbanks, Houston, and other public independent school districts (ISDs) last year,  Zook explained that his organization saw opportunities in several races for the SBOE.

“We were only anticipating playing a part in ISD races, but then we realized the SBOE has a massive impact on students all across the state,” said Zook.

Consisting of 15 elected members, the state board sets curriculum standards and graduation requirements, approves instructional materials, and reviews charter school applications. Due to redistricting, all 15 seats were on the 2022 ballot.

Although Republicans made up the majority of the SBOE prior to the 2022 election cycle, several GOP incumbents drew primary opponents who promised to do more to eradicate CRT elements from state-approved materials. In Districts 14 and 15, incumbent Republicans Sue Melton-Malone and Jay Johnson lost primary races to more conservative challengers Evelyn Brooks and Aaron Kinsey respectively, with the latter also receiving support from Texans for Educational Freedom.

However, the biggest surprise in the SBOE elections may have been the win by newcomer LJ Francis in District 2, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Victoria to the Mexican border.

“LJ’s win in State Board of Education District 2 is arguably the most underrated pickup for Republicans in the state of Texas,” said Zook.

According to The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index, SBOE District 2 favors Democrats by 52 percent, but Francis won by a spare 1,398 votes out of 388,554 cast.

An immigrant to the U.S. from Jamaica, Francis is a professional engineer and former educator, holds a master’s degree in civil engineering, and is a PhD candidate at Texas A&M Kingsville.

In his campaign, Francis accused “woke, out of touch bureaucrats” of “waging a war on teachers and children in the name of social justice,” and promised to give parents a greater voice.

Despite the odds favoring Democrat Victor Perez, Texans for Educational Freedom targeted the race and spent nearly $300,000 in support of Francis in the primary and general elections.

With the surprise win in District 2, Republicans will hold 10 seats on the SBOE next year.

Earlier this year, the board deferred a proposed overhaul of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for social studies after opponents criticized the plan for alleged elements of CRT and decried the lack of “American exceptionalism” in the new standards. Instead, the SBOE adopted minor revisions and will reconsider a full overhaul in 2025.

In addition to controversy over curricula and standards, the SBOE has also drawn scrutiny over charter school approvals. Last summer, Republicans Johnson and Matt Robinson (District 7) joined the board’s Democrats in voting down a Texas Education Agency-approved charter for Heritage Classical Academy in northwest Houston, citing the school’s use of curricula developed in conjunction with Hillsdale College.

Robinson did not run for re-election after redistricting placed him outside of his district. He will be replaced by Republican Julie Pickren.

Last month, the outgoing SBOE voted 8 to 3 to ask the state Legislature to oppose any school choice measures, including education savings accounts or taxpayer savings grants, and unanimously requested more authority to veto expansions for existing charter schools.

Zook says his group is pleased with the makeup of the new state board.

“With all these new conservative members they have the authority and ability to get a lot done right off the bat,” said Zook. “You are going to see a shift towards parents and their concerns over curriculum.”

Following redistricting, Texas requires a new election for all SBOE districts. Seven members will then be randomly selected to serve another two-year term, while the other eight will serve staggered four-year terms for the remainder of the decade.

In addition to victories in the SBOE contests, Texans for Education Freedom successfully supported local school board candidates in the Spring Branch and Conroe school districts,touting an “86 percent success rate” in winning elections in 2021.

SBOE contests are partisan, meaning candidates declare party affiliation. School board races in Texas are technically non-partisan, but in recent years, county and state political parties have at times endorsed in such races and substantially increased their attention paid to those races. Toth has filed legislation that would make all school board races officially partisan beginning September 2023.


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.