Black Alliance for Education Options

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) is a nonprofit organization that describes its goal as “increas[ing] access to high-quality educational options for Black children by actively supporting parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working class Black families.”

BAEO believes that school choice may be widespread, but it’s not widely available to the poor. Affluent families have choice because they can move to different neighborhoods with better public schools, or send their children to private schools. The economically disadvantaged, on the other hand, are often trapped in failing public schools.

The Alliance supports a variety of choice options including publicly and privately financed scholarships to private schools, charter schools, and home schools.

Its leaders work closely with elected officials at the national and state level to implement choice programs. They publish studies, conduct polls, hold seminars, and stage rallies. BAEO describes its “Annual Symposium” as the largest convention of parental choice supporters in the nation.

BAEO is funded by a variety of corporate and philanthropic organizations including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

Getting the Message Out

BAEO was officially launched in August 2000 after African-American educators and parents held a series of meetings in Milwaukee and Washington, DC. BAEO’s co-founder and chair is Howard Fuller, the former superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools and a Marquette University professor.

Fuller says school choice is the most important civil rights issue for African Americans today. “People always ask me, ‘Why are you so mad?’” Fuller told the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2007. “I’m mad because on average 17-year-old black and brown teenagers do math as well as a 13-year-old white child.”

BAEO made a dramatic impact in its very first year of operation, launching a $1.3 million television and radio ad campaign in Washington, D.C. aimed at influencing Congress. These ads featured minority parents supporting the ability to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools. By the end of 2002, BAEO had spent $4.3 million on such advocacy advertising.

In April 2001, President George W. Bush hosted a meeting of 135 education reformers at the White House. Fuller and other fellow Milwaukeeans met privately with the President to discuss his plans to promote charter schools and other choice initiatives.

Later that year, the National Center for Policy Analysis published a book by Fuller and BAEO president Kaleem Caire called Ten Myths About School Choice. Among the myths this book refuted is the claim that tax-funded voucher programs weaken public schools. In fact, where voucher programs have been implemented, public schools have improved.

School Reform in the Nation’s Capitol

In 2004, Congress established America’s first federally-funded voucher plan in the District of Columbia. The $40-million program allows at least 1,700 poor DC public-school students to receive vouchers worth as much as $7,500 to attend private schools.

A key vote occurred in September 2003 when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the plan. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana abstained from voting, later Landrieu telling The Washington Post: “Education reform in America or in the District will not be achieved by giving a few children a choice.”

In response, the DC chapter of BAEO bought a full-page ad in a New Orleans newspaper accusing Landrieu of betraying African-Americans, and noting that her own two children attended the private Georgetown Day School.

In 2009, the Obama Administration decided not to re-authorize the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. BAEO partnered with several pro-school choice groups to conduct a poll that found DC residents overwhelmingly supported continuing the program. The poll of 1,000 residents showed that:

  • 75 percent support the city’s school voucher program;
  • 56 percent believe there should be more scholarships for low-income students; and
  • 68 percent oppose Congress’s effort to end the program.

On September 30, 2009, BAEO organized a Capitol Hill demonstration in which more than 3,200 parents and students demanded that President Obama and Congress re-authorize their voucher program. The speakers included House Minority Leader John Boehner, Washington city councilman (and former mayor) Marion Barry, and Senator Joe Lieberman.

Fighting for Reform in the States

In 2008, BAEO worked closely with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and state legislators to successfully push for a $10 million private school scholarship program in New Orleans. Louisiana’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program provides state scholarships worth up to $7,138 to low-income families so they can move their children out of failing public schools.

On the first day that parents could apply for the scholarships, 700 were waiting in line for the doors to open at the registration site. More than 2,000 attended information sessions. In attendance to answer questions and assist parents was BAEO’s Louisiana state director. About 700 students were served by the program during the 2008-2009 school year. That number grew to more than 1,200 the following year.

Georgia enacted its first universal school choice program in May 2008, in which public school parents are eligible for $50 million in scholarships to send their children to private schools. Under this tuition tax credit program, people and businesses donate portions of their state taxes to nonprofit organizations offering K-12 scholarships. BAEO president Gerard Robinson spoke to the General Assembly before the legislation was passed.

Soon afterward, the state Board of Education appointed Robinson to the seven-member Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The commission is authorized to approve charter school applications that are rejected by local school boards.

In 2009, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland sought to cut funding for the state’s 330 charter schools by more than $200 million. BAEO joined with the “My School, My Choice” coalition of parents and teachers to mobilize opposition to the proposed budget cuts. They sponsored ads on radio stations in Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland accusing Governor Strickland of advocating “separate but unequal treatment” of schools serving a largely African-American student body.

“Most of us would like to believe those days are over, but are they?” asked a voice in the ads. “Here in Ohio, some politicians are trying to block the schoolhouse door for more than 80,000 public charter school students who are disproportionately African-American.”

The state legislature later restored the charter school funding and also wrote new rules to make charter schools stronger.