BAEO’s well-funded public relations campaign is the most recent tactic to emerge from the Right’s strategic campaign to re-cast the image of the voucher movement and build broader political support for policies that would undermine the public education system. For years, the Right has tried to cultivate a small, but visible, base of African American support for its agenda on such issues as vouchers and gay rights.
Right-wing groups have also put a great deal of effort into cultivating African-American spokespeople, and working to counter the legacy of mistrust that communities of color have for a movement that has historically ranged from indifference to opposition toward racial justice efforts. Yet, at the same time, the right-wing political movement has continued to attack traditional civil rights leaders and initiatives.
BAEO is the latest step in the Right’s long effort to portray school vouchers as the new civil rights fight. The group does bring together many African-American voucher supporters and only a fraction of them are involved in right-wing politics in general. But BAEO takes its place among the other think tanks and local organizations that have been created with money from right-wing foundations as well as individuals and organizations hoping to profit from promoting increased privatization of public education.
It is not surprising that BAEO has found support in the halls of power considering the individuals and foundations that have helped create it. Many of the group’s members will no doubt find a profitable existence in the growing sector of private education businesses. However, some might take note of the experiences of Polly Williams, the Wisconsin state legislator who forged an alliance with Bradley and other right-wing voucher supporters to start the Milwaukee voucher program in the early 90s. Insistent that the program be limited to low-income children in urban areas, she found that her relations with the coalition grew cool. “I’m not supposed to have opinions. Whatever they decide to do, they call me and tell me what they decided and they expect me to do it,” she said.76 Williams has since reconciled with the local NAACP and African-American voucher opponents, saying: “We’ve got to learn to be just as sophisticated and to know that we might be fighting on this issue, but on the next issue we will probably be together.”77