In 2012, Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher and writer on issues pertaining to the Religious Right, put together a comprehensive analysis of the current school privatization movement, "The Right's "School Choice" Scheme" on Publiceye.org. It began with Milton Friedman's 1995 treatise, "Public Schools: Make Them Private," and continues with the right's attempt to re-frame it's attack on public education as a "civil-rights reform".
This re-framing was left to the likes of power philanthropists and right-wing think tanks like Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation, the Walton (Walmart) Family, ALEC, and the Koch Bros. They in turn, enlisted former civil-rights activist turned George Bush conservative, Howard Fuller and his Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a group which tries to portray school vouchers as an effort to help low-income kids and children of color "escape" public schools to the freedom of private and religious schools. Fuller has become a vanguard "warrior" in the right-wing attack on unions and teachers' right to collectively bargain.
Long-time Milwaukee schools activist, teacher, school board member and Rethinking Schools editor, Larry Miller offers a critical perspective on Fuller in his review of Fuller's autobiography, No Struggle No Progress.
In the book Fuller uses a variety of arguments to rationalize his alliances. He works closely with the Bradley Foundation and in the past bragged of his close friendship with its deceased president and major architect of the modern conservative movement, Michael Joyce. This is the same Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation that funds conservative policies throughout the US, has been a major supporter of the Republican Tea Party movement and of ALEC, a group behind Stand Your Ground laws and voter restriction laws, among other reactionary policies. The foundation underwrote the blatantly racist study by Charles Murray resulting in the publication of The Bell Curve, which claims that Black people are intellectually inferior to other races. In his book Fuller describes a group of young people criticizing him for accepting money from the Bradley Foundation. He responded that it is “poetic justice” that they fund his work which he says stands in opposition to Murray’s claims. Fuller has been publicly silent on The Bell Curve.As someone who has known Fuller and followed his work for the past 40 years, I couldn't agree more.
While Howard Fuller may try to rest on his past militant laurels, in life’s journey where we end up is more important than where we started. An alliance today with the Waltons, the Bradley Foundation, and Tea Party Republicans is an insult to those who have fought in the past and an affront to those fighting today for social justice and who continue to speak truth to power.
Update on Fuller
EdWeek ran a Q&A with Fuller last week in which he eulogizes the late African-American community activist and state legislator Polly Williams, often called, "the mother of school choice" (vouchers). It was Williams who led the way for passage of the nations first district-wide school voucher program, one which by most accounts has been a dismal failure.
Williams herself, later became a critic of voucher expansion and of the direction her movement had taken under the leadership of the right-wing think-tankers.
In the interview, Fuller tries to dance around Williams' and other conservatives' disaffection with the voucher movement and it's turn towards privately-run charters instead. He goes on to deny that he "ever supported universal vouchers."
What a tangled web we weave...
Back in 2001, Williams told me she opposed how school choice was expanding. Williams said she supported school choice as an experiment. “Our intent was never to destroy the public schools.” She complained that choice supporters like the Bradley Foundation wanted to expand the program beyond low-income families and she opposed this. More recently she was quoted in a Journal Sentinel story opposing the plans of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans to expand the program to middle class families. “They have hijacked the program,” Williams complained.
Murphy documents how Williams was paid handsomely and used by white conservatives until she was supplanted by Fuller.
From 1990 through 1997, Williams earned some $163,000 in honorariums and expenses, far more than any other legislator in Wisconsin. But after that, Williams saw her extra income drop to almost nothing, as Howard Fuller supplanted her as the moral spokesperson for school choice. “She… could have been the leader of school choice,” Joyce told me. “But she stepped aside and Fuller became the leader.”
Most importantly, writes Murphy,
...for Williams the goal of choice was to achieve a better education. But in the wake of many studies showing choice students do no better than their public school counterparts, many Republicans now sell vouchers not as a better way, but as a cheaper way to educate children.
In short, the mother of school choice had great misgivings about the program she helped birth. As frank and combative as Williams was, I suspect she would want those reservations to be included in any celebration of her life.