The collapse of The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) raises some interesting questions. The right-wing funded, anti-union, pro-voucher group started 17 years ago by '70s civil rights activist turned Bush-supporter, Howard Fuller, has gone belly-up just at the moment in time when you'd think they would be rolling in dough.
With Trump-appointed Betsy DeVos sitting atop the DOE and billions of federal and foundation dollars flowing to astroturf school "choice" groups, why does BAEO, the only such group specifically targeting African-Americans, suddenly find itself out in the cold?
Fuller started BAEO with heavy backing from the far right-wing groups, like the Bradley Foundation. Bradley became infamous for its underwriting of the racist "Bell Curve" book by Charles Murray. They hired Fuller as a token pitchman for school vouchers. He claimed them as an "underground railroad" freeing black students from the "slavery" of public education and teacher unions.
But with Trump in the White House, it appears the chickens have come home to roost so far as BAEO's foundation support is concerned.
Fuller is now offering muddled and confusing messages about his organization's demise. On his BAEO blog, Fuller tries to place the collapse in a positive light, calling it a "magical moment" and a "new path forward". But in an EdWeek interview, he complains that the school choice advocacy world has become too crowded, and that means more competition for visibility and funding.
According to EdWeek,
The writing has been on the wall. A year and a half ago, BAEO started shedding some of its state chapters and launched a national competition to reimagine and redesign the organization. But that fizzled out, said Fuller, when the effort didn't yield ideas that were "transformative" enough.
Aside from helping pass charter school laws in Alabama and Mississippi, and voucher laws in Louisiana and the District of Columbia, Fuller said BAEO's impact is seen in the pipeline of African-American talent it helped develop in the world of education reform advocacy.Fuller talks about BAEO like it was a canned good or jar of peanut butter.
"Some organizations, and ours is one of them, have a shelf-life. And we just reached a point where we had done great work but didn't see the ability to continue to do that work going forward."But that still doesn't really answer the question. Why has BAEO's funding dried up just at a time when school voucher and charter school advocates control the reins of power?
The answer may have something to do with...
- The fear of many "choice" advocates and activists that they will be viewed as Trump/DeVos supporters and discredited if they back BAEO. This is especially true for black community activists and those tied to the Democratic Party, like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
- Support for charters is shrinking nationally in the wake of widespread financial scandal and more data showing that charters generally show little in the way of increased measurable student achievement.
- Pro-choice groups and think tanks have been thrown into a dither with some like BAIO endorsing DeVos while others, distance themselves for fear of being associated with the Alt-Right.
- An even wider divide in reaction to Trump/DeVos budget cuts for public education and shifting of resources over to charters and vouchers.
- Demoralizing power struggles within the organization itself, which may account for the mixed messaging.
More food for thought...White, anti-union, charter and voucher supporters, from Nina Reese to Peter Cunningham are singing Fuller's praises and expressing sympathy over BAEO's fall from grace among the big funders. But none have offered to step up and offer the group financial support.
No tears coming from me. I'm sure Fuller will have a soft landing somewhere in Trumplandia.