Chair, Black Alliance for Educational OptionsHoward L. Fuller is the chair and co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). He is regarded as the nation’s most influential African-American spokesman for school choice.
During Fuller’s tenure as the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District (1991-1995), the city started the first publicly- funded school voucher program in the nation. This program grew from 350 voucher students in seven private schools in 1990 to 15,000 in 110 private schools by 2006. Fuller notes that the competition forced the district to change work rules that once based teacher placement on seniority. It also required principals to “sell” their schools to parents.
In 1995, Fuller founded the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. The institute organized an important 1999 meeting of 150 Black educators and parents, which led to the creation of the BAEO the following year.
Fuller passionately argues that educational choice reforms are essential for the African-American community to take advantage of the opportunities made possible by the civil rights movement. “We can sit down at the lunch counter, but our kids can’t read the menu,” he told Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Advocate newspaper in 2007.
Supporting vouchers puts Fuller at odds with many leaders of the Black community. “I’ve accepted that I’ve lost people who I considered very good friends on this issue,” Fuller added.
Fuller’s conversion to school choice is all the more surprising since he started off in the 1960s as a “Black Power” advocate. A community organizer in Durham, North Carolina, Fuller founded the short-lived Malcolm X Liberation University.
Fuller did not come to support school choice out of an abstract belief in free-market philosophy. It was practical experience: Fuller observed many school reforms fail over the years despite good intentions and civic enthusiasm. He told The Oregonian in 2006: “At a certain point in time, you have to say that you have to try something radically different.”