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A charter-school friendly group based in New York City is spending nearly twice as much as all the candidates combined who are seeking a seat on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

Education Reform Now Advocacy has expended more than $167,000 so far in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election and that’s to support only two candidates: Dadrius Lanus and Tramelle Howard. By contrast, the 13 candidates for School Board have reported spending about $90,000 in total, with about $80,000 left in the bank for the home stretch, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Monday was the deadline for candidates in the Nov. 6 election to disclose recent fundraising and spending. The latest reports cover activity between Sept. 28 and Oct. 17. The next reports aren’t due until Dec. 17.

Jill Dyason, who is running for a fifth term in District 6 against challenger Tammy Dabadie, has raised the most money, $30,133. She also has the most still in the bank, $24,348.

Lanus is the only candidate who failed to file by the Monday deadline. He could face fines for failing to file or for filing late.

Six of the nine seats on the School Board are being contested. Board members Mark Belllue, Connie Bernard and David Tatmen were re-elected to third terms in July when no one qualified to run against them.

Education Reform Advocacy Now is the lobbying arm of a better known education group, Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER.

This recent burst of outside spending works out to about $102,000 for Lanus and $65,000 for Howard. Direct spending from their own campaigns is modest by comparison: $5,800 and $8,100, respectively.

Lanus is in a three-way race in District 2 that includes fellow challenger Joycelyn Hall and incumbent Vereta Lee. Howard is running against incumbent Kenyetta Nelson-Smith to represent District 3.

All five are Democrats. Only three of the 13 candidates are Republicans: Dyason, Dabadie, as well as District 7 incumbent Michael Gaudet.

Lee and Nelson-Smith, who are backed by teacher unions and other supporters of traditional public schools, have long been targets of local and national education reform groups. Lee and Nelson-Smith have raised $16,504 and $8,280, respectively, and have spent almost all of that money. Hall has raised only $55 so far.

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.

DFER, its sister organization, was founded in 2007 by a group of hedge fund managers pressing to persuade the Democratic Party to be more open to school choice and school accountability proposals.

In October, DFER contributed money to five parish School Board candidates, $2,500 each in all but one case. They include Howard, Lanus, as well as Chrisdelin Kelly Lyles, who is challenging District 4 incumbent Dawn Collins. DFER also is supporting both candidates in the District 5 race, but has so far given challenger Cliff Lewis $2,500 but only $1,250 to incumbent Evelyn Ware-Jackson. All are Democrats.

Eva Kemp, director of Democrats for Education Reform’s chapter in Louisiana, would not say why its lobbying arm is giving financial help to only two of the five candidates DFER endorsed.

“We believe we are supporting candidates who will raise the bar for all students no matter what ZIP code they are come from,” Kemp said.

DFER and other affiliated entities this summer spent an undisclosed amount of money on a digital, TV and radio campaign called “Raise The Bar Baton Rouge.” It highlighted low graduation rates in Baton Rouge, a high number of low-performing schools in town, as well as a few higher performing charter schools.

Prominent contributors to past School Board elections have yet to show up much in campaign finance reports for the Nov. 6 election.

The Louisiana Association of Education has given $250 each to four incumbent School Board members: Collins, Lee, Nelson-Smith and Ware-Jackson. No candidates have as yet reported any donations from the rival teacher union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Stand For Children Louisiana, perhaps the biggest contributor in recent school elections, has reported little so far, though leaders of the group say it’s active in the current elections. Of the four School Board candidates it has endorsed — Gaudet, Howard, Lyles and Ware-Jackson — only Howard has reported receiving a $1,500 contribution from the group.

And Cajun Industries founder Lane Grigsby, who has put up tens of thousands of dollars in the past two cycles, has given only $6,000 so far this election cycle. His most recent contribution is $2,500 to Ware-Jackson.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.