Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, who has played a major role in previous state school board races, will do so again this time.

Grigsby said the super political action committee he chairs has more than $1 million in the bank that will be used in the hotly contested races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We really believe education reform has got to be continued, that we can’t go back to the Stone Age,” said Grigsby, the founder of Cajun Industries Inc.

The political action committee is Empower Louisiana.

Officials said it had $604,811 in cash on hand in the report that was due 30 days before the Oct. 24 primary.

Grigsby said the group has $1.1 million now.

BESE has 11 members.

Eight seats are on the primary ballot, and at least five will be decided that night since they feature one-on-one contests.

The others will be decided at the Nov. 21 runoff unless one of the candidates wins at least 50 percent of the vote, plus one.

Three other members will be named by the next governor.

The races will determine whether BESE continues to back sweeping changes in public schools, which Grigsby and others back, or reverse those changes, which teacher unions and some other traditional public school groups favor.

One of the first issues that the new BESE will tackle in January is whether the Common Core academic benchmarks should be tweaked or overhauled.

Grigsby has backed tax credits, school choice and other steps usually opposed by traditional public school groups and was heavily involved in last year’s races for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

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Advocates for more school changes enjoy wide leads in some of the key races.

However, financing for all the candidates is dwarfed by the amount of money in Grigsby’s political action committee.

Empower Louisiana is sure to trigger criticism, just as a similar, Grigsby-backed group called Alliance for Better Classroom did in 2011, including where those donations came from.

Contributors this time include Alice Walton, $200,000, and Jim Walton, $200,000, both of Bentonville, Arkansas.

They are the daughter and son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.

Eli Broad, a philanthropist and founder of the The Broad Foundations in Los Angeles, donated another $250,000.

Grigsby dismissed criticism that such figures have no business trying to influence BESE races.

“People who have been successful understand their success is because of their education,” he said. “And they want to share their recipe for success, which means getting other people well-educated.”

Grigsby’s group — it is limited to independent expenditures — will rely mostly on television and radio advertisements and direct mail.

Races where it will be involved include BESE Vice President Jim Garvey, of Metairie, against challenger Lee Barrios, of Abita Springs; incumbent Holly Boffy, of Youngsville, against challenger Mike Kreamer, of Lafayette; and incumbent Mary Harris, of Shreveport, against challengers Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, and Glynis Johnston, of Shreveport.

The group backs Garvey, Boffy and Davis in those contests.

In the race to succeed BESE President Chas Roemer, both Laree Taylor and Jason Engen are acceptable, Grigsby said.

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