Some voters in East Baton Rouge Parish have begun receiving fliers in their mailbox urging them to vote against three separate ballot proposals later this month that, together, would renew a one-cent sales tax to fund East Baton Rouge Schools.
Urging voters to “Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 on April 28,” the flier states that “Every year we pay more and our schools get worse” and goes on to note that “over half of EBR Schools earned a D or F performance score.”
A little-known nonprofit group called Keep Louisiana Working is behind the campaign opposing the tax, which would generate some $935 million over 10 years for the school system.
The nonprofit organization, which is registered as a 501(c) 4, is based on East Airport Road and describes its mission as advancing “public policies aimed at creating jobs and economic opportunity, limiting government, reducing the tax burden on citizens, improving the economy, protecting the rights of parents and leading to better social welfare in the state of Louisiana,” according to its Facebook page.
A 501(c) 4 is a tax-exempt organization that is allowed to lobby for issues and advocacy purposes. Donor contributions to it are not tax exempt, however. The group was founded in 2013 by Joey Young of Monroe and Daniel Kirk of Alexandria, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website. Its local executive director is listed as Emily Cornell.
In an email to Daily Report, Cornell says Keep Louisiana Working decided to get involved in this particular campaign because “the East Baton Rouge Parish School System spends more money per student than virtually any other school district in Louisiana. Despite this level of investment, our schools remain some of the worst in the state. Continuing to ignore the failures of our school system will not encourage the change our students need.”
Cornell declines to say who produced the fliers, how much the campaign cost and what other campaigns the group has been involved in.
According to a campaign finance report filed with the state in March, Keep Louisiana Working paid $12,000 to political consultant Lionel Rainey’s firm LR3 on March 23 for live and automated phone calls, Facebook advertising and social media management.
But Rainey says he did not produce the fliers and was not paid by the group in connection with its anti-school tax campaign. He declines to say what work he did do for the organization. Young and Kirk could not be reached for comment.
More than half the money generated by the tax renewal—51%—would fund new technology and building projects in the school system, while 41% would maintain teacher salaries at their current level. The rest would fund new truancy and discipline programs.
At least one member of the East Baton Rouge School Board says she’s disappointed the group would go after what the school system considers to be a badly needed tax renewal.
“I struggle to understand a person or group who is against a tax renewal that benefits our school children, especially one this small. It’s a penny,” says Connie Bernard. “It seems like a win-win for everyone in the community and the responsible thing to do.”
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has come out in support of propositions 1 and 3, which would fund the capital projects and teacher salaries. It opposes Proposition 2, which would fund the new disciplinary and truancy programs.