There's so much going on in the world of public education, from "school choice" to improving curriculum standards. For years, America has lagged behind many countries in terms of competitive, quality education, and frankly, Texas has not made that very many positive strides. Well, conservatives are stepping up and in this episode we chat with one of Texas' State Board of Education Members, LJ Francis. He's a Christian family-man and an engineer by trade, who just like you, decided it was time to make the change happen. We also continue our discussion around the power of prayer and how sometimes its good for everyone to take a step back and see all the positive things happening around us.
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Welcome everybody. Even though the conservative battle is just beginning, and we have a long road ahead to pummel the leftist and the Dems at the polls, there is still so much to be thankful for in our lives. Today on the answer, we discuss everything from praying boldly to hearing from LJ Francis, member of the Texas State Board of Education on how he looks to reform public schools in Texas to reinforce strong conservative values. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook at Ben Armenta Texas. You can also find out more about my story at Ben armenta.com. Why is prayer all of a sudden, so controversial? Seriously, what the heck is going on these days? The United States Senate Chaplain Barry Black remarked after the Nashville shooting, when babies die at church school is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers. After the Valdez shooting last year, Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee advisor Kurt BARDELLA tweeted, quote, Ted Cruz received $300,000 from pro gun crowd. So take your prayers and shove them up your ass. I mean, I'm good with people wanting more to be done to keep our kids and our schools and our community safe. I'm good with people expressing concern that bipartisan actions need to be formulated and worked on in order to achieve some shared goals around improving our daily lives. But criticizing prayer. How are we at a point in which people question and challenge the fact that prayer is even a good thing. Prayer is the exact opposite of inaction. Prayer is a very active, inward and outward expression. It's honest, it's humble. It's an invitation to God that we hunger for a relationship with Him. And we we hunger for him to intercede in our lives. In one of our earlier episodes we talked about Dan are Lawsky the NFL analyst on ESPN who, one evening I genuinely and openly prayed on the broadcast set for the well being of Damar Hamlin. And if you recall, Damar Hamlin is a receiver for the Buffalo Bills. And in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He took this freak tackle to his chest, and his heart stopped right there on the field. And medical professionals, they rushed out there. And they did something like over 15, maybe 20 minutes of CPR. And not knowing really any other way to respond to this. That Analyst Dan or lossky prayed for everybody for millions of people who were watching on TV, and it was moving and humbling. And in my heart of hearts, I believe that God answered the prayers of Dan and millions of others around the world as they were praying for Damar Hamlet, who's now recovered. I don't know if he's going to play. I think he might. But he he certainly is out of the hospital and is well on his way to recovery. Well, just about a week or so ago, a massive storm rumbled across the United States. And this storm. I mean, it was huge. The storm was it was it was gigantic. It had an EF four tornado, which I think is the second largest tornado. And I think isn't just based on size. It's based on wind speed, and that this particular tornado had winds over 200 miles an hour. But it was 15 miles wide. Can you imagine something like that? 15 miles wide. And over 25 people died as a result of this storm. And in the middle of the tornado bearing down across Mississippi, there was a meteorologist in Tupelo on W t VA named Matt lava Han. And this storm was headed right for a small town called Amory and he knew the devastation was going to be catastrophic. Okay, so Amory, we need to be in Ark For NATO safe place, we got new skin coming in here as we speak. Man like north side of Amory, this is coming in. Oh man Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen. Okay, so it's gonna track along Highway 25. Unfortunately, it's this cut farther, a little bit more east. So I have it slightly behind me there, this is gonna cross the highway six bridge within the next 20 seconds or so. First off, have we made all the phone calls for folks, we need to talk to an Amory for a second, somebody called Craig's family just to make sure. Just didn't want just want to make sure we've had that conversation. I know, Craig's probably done that, but I just want to make sure we've done that. Okay, this is probably moving through the north west portion of Amory now it has shifted just enough, golly, now this is gonna be right there. So we have to be in that tornado safe place. What you might not be able to tell from just that audio clip is that Matt, he received an alert on his mobile device, it sort of buzzes or rings right there at the beginning. And then he refreshed his live radar. And the projections on where that tornado was going to hit. were way worse. I mean, it's it's a map of Amory and it is bearing down straight on top of these homes. He knew that the homes and businesses were going to be destroyed and lives were going to be lost. And there was nothing anyone could really do about it. Except pray. And he even went off script there at the end. I don't know if you picked up on that. And he suggested to other employees there in the studio there. Yeah, TV. I don't know producers or camera folks, to call each other's loved ones and notify them of what's about to happen. But that one single sentence, a prayer for help to Jesus. It mattered. It mattered to those people. It mattered to Jesus. Listen again. Okay, so Amory, we need to be in our tornado safe place. We got new scan coming in here as we speak. Man, like north side of Amory, this is coming in. Oh, man. Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen. Okay, so he's gonna track along Highway 25, unfortunately, is his cut farther, a little bit more east. So I have it slightly behind me there. This is gonna cross the highway six bridge within the next 20 seconds or so. First off, have we made all the phone calls for folks, we need to talk to an Amory for a second, somebody called Craig's family just to make sure. Just you don't want just want to make sure we've had that conversation. I know, Craig's probably done that, but I just want to make sure we've done that. Okay, this is probably moving through the north west portion of Amory now, it has shifted just enough. Golly, now this is gonna be right there. So we have to be in that tornado safe place. I am so grateful. We have examples in our lives today. of people like Dan or lossky. And Matt Lohan. People are willing to focus less on themselves and focus more on others. That's what God wants. We have a responsibility as Christian disciples to put the lives of others before our very own. Every time not sometimes not under certain conditions, or when it feels safe or when other people are doing it, but every time and every time is the right time for prayer. So our call to action is this. Lift up Matt, and Dan, and all the prayer warriors you can think of lift them up right now in your prayers. I know you can think of them. I've got about a dozen church ladies and grandparents and church elder types I can think of who are continually building and adding and activating prayer lists. So think of them and lift them up in your prayers. And when the leftist mock Christians who, when faced with tragedy lead with prayer, just pray harder. And know that it's all working out how God intends maybe it's the circles I keep, or the fact that I'm on social media a lot. But dang, there is a ton of complaining going on. We don't share enough about the great things happening all around us. The old adage of stop and smell the roses and look at the brighter side of things, I believe are even more true today than in the past. We are constantly bombarded with chaos, and noise. And all those things that just breed frustration and angst and pent up anger. It's no good. It's no good for you or for me. There are so many amazing things happening around us each and every day. A couple weeks ago, I went to the Houston rodeo with my family and everyone there was happy. The kids selling the livestock the families run in between the rides at the carnival, the cowboys and cowgirls who were competing, everybody was happy blessings were abundant. I mean, I waited in line for 15 minutes for a funnel cake and deep fried oreos, and I hate waiting in lines. But it was totally worth it. So we here at the answer are motivated to change our world for the better and advance conservative values across America. But we believe that bringing more feel good stories is a part of that journey, reminding us that 99% of all Americans are amazing people. So expect more stories, like this next one in the episodes ahead. For barbecue lovers, Brad's barbecue in Oxford, Alabama is heaven on earth. But 80 year old Eleanor Baker says her visit here earlier this month, was especially divine. I think it was a God thing. I think God sent me there. Do you think we needed the example? Yes, that people care about other people and how important it is. Eleanor is a widow. She lives with her dog Rufus. And although she has a big family, they mostly live out of town. So Eleanor was alone the night she went to Brad's barbecue. Security footage shows her entering there in the purple. And at about that same time, these three young men arrived. They say they were just having a good old time who's just sitting there just talking when Jamario Howard noticed Eleanor older woman sitting by herself. Jamario says he hates seeing people eat alone. And I think that when most of us see someone eating alone, we feel that way. But our sympathy never solves anything. And Jamario really wanted to fix this. So he got up from his table and sat at hers. He just came up and he said, I saw you sitting over here alone. And he said, Do you mind having some company and she said go right here. And then I introduce myself and she introduced herself. And here's kind of how it all got started. They all ended up having dinner together. And it was just a really nice, pleasant evening. What those 20 Somethings did that night speaks volumes about their character. But they say it wasn't entirely altruistic. They enjoyed her company. As much as she enjoyed there's because when we lifted it's all we talked about when you made that kind of connection with somebody, it's hard to let it go. Like I already feel like we're here guarantees. So you got room for these guys in your life course. I'm so glad y'all can make it they have all vowed to make room for one another and certainly have Eleanor's right, that God played any role in this. It may be to remind us of the joy that awaits just outside the bubbles we live in. I used to say when I was younger, and I still said today, like I'm gonna change the world somehow. And I don't know how makes I'm not rich. I'm not famous, and I'm not very smart either. So I can't be the president. But we can show the world that it's alright to be kind. And then before long, maybe the world will be a bunch better place. Amen. Oh no. Steve Hartman, on the road in Oxford, Alabama. So that story was was from Steve Hartman, who does the on the road series. And I love hearing about young men and women men doing good works like that in their communities. And for years now, we've been bashing on millennials and bashing on Gen Z kids. And we've been bashing them on everything from not going outside playing with their friends, being afraid to skin, their knees, getting trophies for everything, not wanting to show up to the office for work, just work at home. But the truth is, is that there are some amazing people in this world. And some young folks whose parents, like many of you who are listening to this podcast have instilled in them strong family and community values. Kids who know the benefits of hard work, and dedication, commitment, and who know that fulfillment in life comes through their faith. I love this story about Jamario Howard and his pals. So many state legislatures in red states are coming under fire every day and every week for bills that are triggering the left bills that ban transgender mutilation surgeries on minors, bills that remove pornography from schools, bills that classified drag queen shows as sex industry so that minors are not allowed to be in attendance. And the senators and representatives who are filing these bills, they're working on your behalf to ultimately protect the values which you and I hold dear. And they're doing this so that young men like Jamario can put their time and their energy towards the things that truly matter in life, like helping others find hope, in what may appear to be essentially a hopeless situation. While building up a strong education system, rooted in conservatism, it's going to be a battleground for conservatives for us for many years to come. There are a lot of individuals and a lot of groups who impact the quality of education all across this country. And in Texas, one such group is the State Board of Education. And today I want to welcome in Texas State Board of Education member LJ Francis. He's a Republican who represents District Two, which covers portions of Southeast Texas, including Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and Victoria. He's an engineer by trade, but now represents the interests of over 2 million Texans on everything that has to do with education. LJ Well, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me, Ben, it's good to be here. I appreciate it. I found that most people I've interacted with have basically no idea what the state board of education in Texas does. Or even that we have one I mean, they've all heard about T EA they know about school districts and school boards, but they don't really know anything about the State Board of Education. Tell us a little bit about its mandate and your role as a member. Right. And thank you. That's so true. While I was campaigning for this position, you know, most of my time was spent, you know, educating people on what is Texas State Board of Education. And what I like to tell people is that we are the policy body for the the TA Texas Education Agency. So we get our mandate from the legislature. And what we're asked to do is to ensure that, or 5.4 million students that we have in the Texas Education System are equipped with an education that provides them a set up for success. And we do these things by ensuring that they have access to good quality curriculum. And one of the things that we're in charge of is passing what we call the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and these are the standards. So we passed the standards, which we we anticipate will form a good baseline for what school districts would then add kind of like the meat onto those bones and make a strong curriculum. And we also are in charge of a perpetual fund called the permanent school fund, which is about $55 billion right now. Which funds everything from instructional materials for kids to just things in the in the classroom that they need for for you know, for learning. So it's all about funding kids for you know, I In a great education in Texas, we also are able to participate in the charter school formation in the state of Texas. So state board gets a say in what new charters form as well. So it's all about instructional materials, and getting good curriculum for students. How many members are on the board? So we have 15 members that sit on the State Board of Education. And as you can tell, Texas is so big that we're each in charge of about approximately 2 million people within our district. So very large districts. So you talked about the priorities, or the mandate being set by the legislature? Does the board itself come up with its own objectives or agenda or priorities? Or is there something that comes to the legislature saying, hey, we need y'all to go solve these top five priorities? How does that work? So we have a list that is codified in the Texas Education Code into about 3034 things that the legislature asked the State Board of Education to do. I mean, it also includes building long range plans for education and kind of looking at what the landscape should look like with within several years. So that's how the legislature communicates with us know, with that we are given what what they call rulemaking authority. So we are able to make rules, which then govern all public schools, K through 12, within the state of Texas, each year, each chairman, you know, gets to kind of dictate what, you know, he or she would like to see, within those lists of tasks, the State Board of Education, you know, tackle within their their term. And that usually formed sort of or agenda for for each, for each session. And, as you know, each district is so big, and the members have their own mandates and their their own things that they want to see happen as well. So we're able to, you know, discuss with each other on that. That's good, because, you know, Texas is pretty diverse. I know, people bring a lot of ideas to the table, how long is your term? So my term is four years. And usually what happens after every 10 years of when the census has taken the State Board of Education, districts get redrawn? So that first meeting in January, when if some of your your, your listeners were, were tuning into state board of education meetings, we each had to draw for terms. So seven of us got two year terms, and eight of us got four year terms. I was lucky enough. Thank god to get a four year term. Yes, yeah. That's great. That's good. That's good for your district, for sure. Because I know, yes, it was quite the battle in your campaign. Yeah. I mean, it's pretty historic to say because, you know, we've never had a Republican representing this area. And, you know, one thing I did talk about was I, you know, I love people to, you know, get to know me and what, what I'm about, you know, just making sure that it was student focused. My my messaging was talking about, you know, giving parents that that integral role that they seem to have been craving and no one would, you know, support that in my race. So that's something that I felt spoke to them. But it was very close. A couple of years ago, you know, we saw that red wave in Virginia, that was definitely a cod used, the parental rights, the student rights, the schools, school issues as a springboard for for that wave. And, you know, I know some of that messaging was key in the last election here in Texas, are are conservatives making a mountain out of a molehill here in Texas when we talk about ideologies in the classrooms? Or is there really a lot of work to be done to, to ensure that conservative values are really what's represented in our public schools? Events? That's a very good question and throw my campaign what I've done and what I've stressed on is, you know, my real goal is To get to know my district and, and the people within the district. And I like to say that most of my time that I have been on the campaign trail as I've been doing a lot of listening, and I've translated that, since I've been elected to, you know, meeting also with parents and students, but administrators as well, as a matter of fact, I go to Victoria tomorrow to meet with Education Service Center, region three, and also superintendents in that area, and parents as well. But to your question, there is a lot to be done in, in education in the classroom. I mean, we see where, and one of the reasons why I ran was because I felt like there was not a large emphasis on the actual curriculum, and rigor within the classroom. And, you know, we're, we're now here in Texas 2023. You know, we're talking about a lot of things like parents are, you know, said to me that, you know, they are not interested in the Social Agenda being discussed with their child. And it was good that some bills that the legislature passed before this session, seek to have parents opt in if they want their children to participate in some of these discussions. We've seen the great the grades that have, you know, come out off the STAR test. And, you know, students are not doing well, one of the things that I'm concerned with is that our students are not reading well, they're not writing well. And these are things that, you know, I would like to work with, with districts, parents to come up with a solution, because we need to have the best students in the state of Texas that are graduating. Yeah, no excuse. I mean, Texas is the greatest state. We should be leading in everything, especially education, and we're not. So it's important, we get good, strong conservatives that are student focused, like you're like yourself in office. So do you have a favorite bill that's been drafted, that's that you're paying very close attention to that that's working its way through the legislature right now. You know, what, I will say, probably let the cat out of the bag a little bit. But the only bill that I'm really God saved my favorite is because, you know, I had the idea. And I contacted my my legislatures to ask them to file the bill on my behalf. And it's a very small bill, but it allows the State Board of Education. The the authority to request a G's opinion, and that's very integral because as we know, there's a lot of times when, you know, parents are concerned about, you know, something that the district is doing, and, and also districts are interested maybe to be sure that they're rolling out the correct policy. So this bill allows the state board of education, the member who represents approximately 2 million people to say, you know, hey, Mr. AG, we would like to know your opinion on this rule, because it's not very clear how it is written here. So, you know, I think that it's going well, SB 50, and 75 and companion on the on the House side, HB 2731. So you know, I'm really proud of that, because, you know, being first time in office, and just seeing how the process takes place is very special. That that's fantastic. Now, I thought I read somewhere that you have been assigned as a vice chair of one of the committees. Is that, is that right? Yes. Yes, that's true. So the Committee on School initiatives, the State Board of Education has three standing committees, we have the Committee on instruction, they deal primarily with the standards, education standards, they look at new courses, to be able to bring new courses to students who need it. Do we have the committee for finance, the permanent school fund, which I discussed earlier, or anything finance related, as discussed at that level, and then the committee that I'm on, which is kind of like a catch all for what's left is the Committee on School initiatives. And it's a very special committee. We work closely. And as I said, we have rulemaking authority for local school boards, the type of education that we want them to have going into that position. We also and my colleagues and I were able to add new area of oversight, which is school safety, which is very important to that committee. So we'll be hearing from Texas School Safety Center on what's going on, and also the TAs chief of school safety, and just kind of monitoring our schools and seeing how they're doing, how we could support them. And you know, how we could advocate for things that they need in terms of, you know, rules or dollars from the legislature. We also hear new applicants for charter schools in that committee as well. And then we also are able to appoint their board and board members that are on military bases that the State Board of Education directly appoints to those boards, and we are in charge of that as well. Okay, so we're excited to serve as Vice Chair, I can only imagine I mean, that that is such a broad committee. But I love that school safety is a priority, do you have a particular focus area that you really want to try to move the needle on? In the, you know, the next six months or so on that committee? Yeah, well, you know, I'm really proud of when we were working on or adopting our rules in January, you know, I brought that amendment to or our or board to add school safety to the Committee on School initiatives. So that is one area that I'm going to be working very closely with, I've already visited the Rio Grande Valley and discuss with their leaders, they're on their efforts to ensure that, you know, our schools are safe, our children are safe, and that parents could at least not worry about safety of their children, when they leave them in, they dropped them off in the mornings. And as they're picking them up, they know that they're safe at school. And it's it's one of those areas that we're going to have to pay attention to in perpetuity. I mean, it there's always going to be challenges, there's always going to be, you know, safety issues or incidents across the world that we're gonna have to pay attention to and figure out how do we keep our kids safe in these classrooms, it's important for, for their learning experience for them to be comfortable and safe. I love that that's a focus area for the State Board of Education. Yeah, I mean, you just look at the world landscape right now. And, you know, things are getting more evil. And, you know, there's just this emphasis on getting kids younger and younger, to, you know, in a place where it's, it's not to see them succeed. And, you know, some people want to harm kids in whatever way so you know, we have to be able to protect them. And this is not just one away, we, we need to be able to at least their physical safety needs to be paramount. And I mean, as you can see, the Governor as well has made this a top priority. I actually had emergency issue for this session as well. So it was real, real pro to see that as well, that were I was in the right dirt. right direction and right in step with what our state executive leaders are, are focused on as well. I totally, totally agree. And he's, he's made school focus area, school choice has been a key focus area with our top leaders. Is that something that the state board of education really has any influence on or at this point? You just kind of in a holding pattern to kind of see what what the legislature ends up completing in this session? Yeah, so I know that that topic is going to get a robust discussion, as my chairman said, in the legislature this session, and right now, we've we've decided not to, you know, weigh in, in in in that discussion until we see what the legislature has decided, and you know, if we get into responsibilities as well, as a result of that. So if you could statewide, make one big, sweeping change for our schools. What what would that be? I would say it's, it's transparency because I think that transparency leads to good government. I cannot tell you how many parents have said to me that, you know, they have so much difficulties communicating get information out of their school, school districts. And you know, I I almost want to tell you Each superintendent that you know, you don't have to worry about parents leaving your school, if you create an atmosphere for them that is inviting. And that's truly what it is, we can solve a lot of problems by wanting to do the right thing. You know, with just the attitude of, you know, being kind of open and honest with with our constituents, and our and our stakeholders, and parents are our biggest stakeholders, they're in charge, and they're looking out for the best for those kids. So if I could do anything, it would be to, you know, improve the transparency, and to make all school districts as transparent as they can be with with parents. And I think that will solve a lot of the, you know, the uproar that they see in school board meetings, because that's, you know, it's at a frustration level that parents, you know, have no other choice, no one will listen to them, except that the school board meetings, so, you know, sometimes it looks like it gets overboard, but I believe that with increased transparency, and working together, it's going to be very important, but could get over this hurdle together. Yeah, yeah, Transparency can can bring down the temperature in the room, right? It doesn't mean you're going to agree, but it means that you can, you can discover the common ground, you can discover it some understanding of, of, you know, both positions, or the different sides of the issue. Transparency, you know, is is honest. Right, and that that's really what parents are, are wanting. Right? Yes. I mean, we've seen since they've been able to act as both parent and teacher during COVID, you know, they've gotten more interested in what's happening in the schools. And, you know, that's the right there, we actually, the Texas Education Code, says that we want to encourage parents to be partners in their children's education. And that's something that the legislature wants to see happen as well. So, you know, with fidelity, I think that, you know, as a school district leader, and as an educational leader, you would want this for your, your, your district to be able to be transparent. And also I've spoke, I've had discussions with several superintendents, and they have great, amazing programs that people don't know about, you know, that parents don't know, is happening at the district level. And, you know, this transparency will help with that, too. Because they know what's going on and they're able to participate, and they're able to get more buy in. From from parents. I believe it. So where, where can people find out more about State Board of Education and even about you and your office and your, your history that got to this spot? Definitely. So I have a website, it's going to be updated, because it's still in the campaign mode. That is LJ for texas.com. And that's LJ fo r Texas spelled out T xs.com. And also on Facebook facebook.com/lj. For Texas, you can find me there. And on the TE A's website, Texas Education Agency website. Just look under the State Board of Education tab. I have a history about myself about about my background, and you could always email me as well. I mean, well. You know, one of the things we tried to do on this show is introduce good conservatives from all walks of life who, yes, somewhere along the way, just said, Hey, I want to do something about the issues I'm seeing in my community. I want to make the world a better place for you know, my family, my kids, future generations. And I know that is a big part of what drove you to run for this position. And, you know, I can't thank you enough ultimately for for really just raising the hand and saying that you were ready to to do something about it. So I appreciate it. And I certainly appreciate you joining us today. No problem, Ben, thanks for having me. And you know, I always remember something that you said when I met you in in Corpus Christi. Nobody wants perennial politicians anymore. You know, they want people that are about action. They want someone who's going to listen and do what benefits then we're trying was laid into something useful in your life. And, you know, God's willing, I hope that I'll be able to do that. Do that well, so thanks for having me. You bet. We'll definitely keep you and your family and our our thoughts and prayers. Safe, safe travels around you're very big district and back and forth to Austin and keep up the good work for our kids. Thanks so much, Ben. Have a great day. Thanks, LJ. Thank you so much for listening. As always, you can email me your thoughts to Ben at Ben armenta.com. We are at an interesting point in society. We face many challenges, but we can overcome all of them. But we have to remember that everything is possible through God and prayer. And everything is possible. If we find friendships and do it together. I want to thank LJ Francis, for coming onto today's show. To find out more about the Texas State Board of Education, you can go to T ea.texas.gov. Until next time, thanks again. And God bless. The answer with Ben Armenta is sponsored by the kickin crab, the latest and greatest Cajun concept to hit the southwest. They offer down home flavors and it's one of those places where you're gonna want to take the kids, no plates, just good times brought to you by folks that have strong conservative values. Like you and me. Visit them off of Highway six in Houston or at the kicking crab.com