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This screen grab is from an ad by the charter-school friendly Education Reform Now Advocacy, a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform, running in advance of the fall elections for the East Baton Rouge School Board.

Starting Tuesday, a charter-school friendly group is running digital ads, as well as some TV and radio spots aiming to persuade Baton Rouge voters to sign onto a “new vision of success focused on excellence, equity and accountability.”

Dubbed “Raise The Bar Baton Rouge,” organizers describe it as a “significant six-figure buy” scheduled to stretch over eight weeks during June and July. The ad campaign is timed to prepare the ground for elections this fall for the nine seats on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board; qualifying for those elections takes place July 18-20.

The campaign highlights how only two-thirds of ninth-graders in Baton Rouge public high schools graduate on time four years later, one of the lowest rates in the state. It also points out that more than a third of the public school students in Baton Rouge attend schools with state academic letter grades of D or F.

“The future of Baton Rouge goes through the schoolhouse door. And right now, the future isn’t as bright as it should be,” goes the script for an initial 30-second commercial launching the campaign.

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Behind the ads is a group called Education Reform Now Advocacy, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation affiliated with the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform.

“It’s way past time that we talk about the challenges in Baton Rouge with the larger community,” said Eva Kemp, director of the group's chapter in Louisiana.

Kemp said the campaign also will highlight newer charter schools that it sees as being viable alternatives to traditional public schools.

“We want to build overall awareness for the high quality options across the city,” Kemp said.

Kemp, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for the School Board seat that Connie Bernard won and still holds, said Democrats for Education Reform and its affiliated groups hope the campaign will persuade like-minded Democrats to run in School Board races this fall, but she said the organization is not actively recruiting candidates.

Education Reform Now Advocacy is structured for tax purposes as a “social welfare organization,” which, according to the IRS, “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.” Such organizations don’t have to disclose their donors.

School choice, once rare in Baton Rouge, has exploded over the past decade.

In 2008, just three charter schools operated in East Baton Rouge Parish. Now, 24 charter schools operate in the parish and educate more than 8,600 students, about 14 percent of the public schoolchildren in the parish.  Four more charter schools are set to open this fall, adding thousands of more children to charter school rolls. Charter schools are public schools run privately via contracts, or charters.

And that does not count the publicly funded private school assistance programs that pay for some or all of the private school tuition of children from low-income families in Baton Rouge.

Education Reform Now Advocacy and its sister organization, Education Reform Now, have long been active in Louisiana school politics. In 2016, Education Reform Now spent more than $300,000 supporting two successful School Board candidates in New Orleans. In the lead-up to that election, it launched a public information campaign called Raising Grades, Lifting Futures that is still ongoing.

The website for the new Raise The Bar Baton Rouge campaign lays out an agenda similar to what charter school advocates have been pressing, with limited success, for years in the Capital City:

  • Greater parent choice and autonomous schools.
  • Authorizing “new public charter schools with strong applications and proven track records of success” as part of a shift to a portfolio system where the School Board oversees performance contracts for an increasing number of its schools.
  • Greater willingness to sell or lease under-utilized school buildings to charter schools.
  • Adopting a unified enrollment system for all traditional and charter schools akin to the OneApp system used in New Orleans.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.