A hotly contested primary race in the 21st District for the State House is drawing some pretty big money. It has turned into a bit of proxy war between two sides of the education debate in Illinois. Silvana Tabares has received $40,000 from a group that says it promotes education reform while Rudy Lozano Jr. has received sizable donations from two teachers unions.

The 21st District includes Riverside south of the Burlington-Northern Railroad tracks.

The political action committee of the group Stand for Children Illinois has contributed $40,000 to Tabares in the last month. Stand for Children was founded in Portland, Ore., and in the last year and a half has become a major player in Illinois politics.

In the second half of 2010 Stand for Children Illinois PAC raised almost $3.5 million from some of Chicago’s wealthiest families, including the Crowns and Pritzkers, as well as former Chicago Tribune boss, Sam Zell. Hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin contributed $500,000 in 2010, as did Madison Dearborn Partners CEO Paul Finnegan.

Since mid-2010 the fund and its parent organization have doled out about $1.5 million to Illinois political committees.

It advocates for the rigorous evaluation of teachers and played a major role in a law passed last year in the state legislature legislation that requires Illinois teachers to be evaluated differently and reduces the role of seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs. Stand for Children often has an antagonistic relationship with teachers unions.

Stand for Children has also developed close ties to Illinois speaker of the House Mike Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Its $40,000 donation to Tabares, a 33-year-old former editor of the bilingual newspaper Extra, is the largest donation to any single candidate in this election cycle said Mary Anderson, the director of Stand for Children, Illinois.

“We think she will be a strong advocate for the best policies for children,” said Anderson, a former policy advisor to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “We make sure that the folks that we are choosing to endorse put children first and are putting children before adults in their education policy decisions.”

Stand for Children sent questionnaires to all candidates and interviewed both Tabares and Lozano.

Lozano, who taught for five years at alternative charter high schools in Chicago and has a master’s degree in education, said he and Stand for Children may share some of the same goals, but differ on how to achieve those goals.

“I think we share certain things in common,” said Lozano, whose campaign has received $10,000 from the political action committee of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and $6,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union.

“I think Stand for Children is trying to solve these problems by holding teachers much more accountable than the rest of the education system. I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think there is any proven research to show that their methods and measures for measuring performance are effective.”

Dave Comerford, a spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers said that supporting Lozano was an easy decision for his group.

“That was the hands down choice,” Comerford said. “Someone who has been a teacher who has that life experience in the classroom, who has worked with parents and has been actively involved in local schools. He’s a great choice for anyone who cares about public education.”

Most of the money Lozano has raised has come from labor unions.

Lozano’s father was a union organizer in Chicago who was murdered in 1983 shortly after he made an unsuccessful race for alderman. Lozano makes no apologies for his strong union backing.

“I think they’re supporting me, because I have a proven record supporting the collective bargaining rights of workers, Lozano said. “They know that I have a background and experience in the education system, being a former teacher myself, as well as someone who has studied it and studied policy.

“I actually believe that organized labor has a vital role in making sure that we have a strong democracy and civically engaged society.”

Lozano has also received $5,000 from the largest personal injury and workman’s compensation law firm in Illinois, Goldberg, Weisman and Cairo.

Last week Tabares received a $6,000 contribution from the political action committee of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and $5,000 from the campaign fund of County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (D-McCook).

Lozano said that Tabares has sent out direct mail pieces accusing him of flashing gang signs.

“These are desperate attacks and ugly attacks that are being used in this campaign,” Lozano said. “My opponent has decided to go negative on me and is personally attacking my character. I would question why Stand for Children is aligning themselves with a candidate discrediting my character personally with no proof.”

In the 24th District Democratic primary, which includes a small part of central Riverside and a portion of southern Brookfield, 27-year-old Robert Reyes is mounting a challenge to incumbent state Rep. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero.

Hernandez has received help in the form of staff, printing and postage totaling $25,000 from the campaign fund, Democratic Majority, which is controlled by Madigan.

Hernandez has also received $6,000 from tobacco companies, including $5,000 from the parent company of R.J. Reynolds. The Hernandez campaign has also received contributions of $5,000 from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee as well as $2,000 each from Commonwealth Edison and Ameren, a downstate electric utility.

Reyes campaign manager Kevin Wunder estimates that the Hernandez campaign has raised nearly three times as much money as the Reyes campaign.

Saturday at a candidate forum in Berwyn, Reyes attacked Hernandez for taking money from a tobacco company.

Hernandez made no apologies for accepting the contributions.

“Campaigns cost money,” Hernandez said.

She also said that 600 of her signs have disappeared.

This story has been updated to correct the number of campaign signs Lisa Hernandez says have disappeared.