Report Examines Money Trail of Black Alliance for Educational Options, Finds Key Backers Also Finance Anti-Affirmative Action and Far-Right Efforts
Over the past nine months, millions of Americans have seen lavishly produced TV ads featuring African American parents talking about school vouchers. These ads and their sponsor, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), portray vouchers as an effort to help low-income kids. But a new report explores the money trail behind BAEO, finding that it leads directly to a handful of wealthy right-wing foundations and individuals that have a deeper agenda—not only supporting the school voucher movement, but also backing anti-affirmative action campaigns and other efforts that leading African American organizations have opposed or considered offensive.
The foundations and individuals who are funding and helping to drive BAEO’s activities are detailed in a new report by People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF). The report, Community Voice or Captive of the Right? A Closer Look at the Black Alliance for Educational Options, can be obtained at: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/education/vouchers/factsheets/BAEOReport12_01.pdf
After vouchers failed in the 1980s and ’90s to gain popular support, key supporters decided on a different strategy: adopt the language of the civil rights movement and assert that vouchers are a way to help low-income, African American students. This strategy seeks to boost support for vouchers beyond the mostly white, conservative constituency that has been most favorable to vouchers so far. Yet, many of the forces that are funding BAEO’s ad campaign have broader agendas that include school privatization and hostility toward programs or policies that enhance opportunities for African Americans.
Community Voice or Captive of the Right? offers these and other insights about the foundations and individuals that provide key financial support to BAEO:
The Bradley Foundation has provided grants to vocal opponents of affirmative action and provided nearly $1 million to researcher Charles Murray. Murray is co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which suggests that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites. The foundation has also funneled nearly $4 million to the right-wing Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The Center’s president, David Horowitz, wrote a controversial newspaper ad last year opposing reparations for slavery and suggesting that Blacks should feel "gratitude" that their ancestors were brought to America in bondage.
Milton Friedman, whose foundation is a high-profile supporter of BAEO, supports voucher programs that would make taxpayer dollars available to all families, even the very wealthy. This contrasts sharply with BAEO, which promotes vouchers as a means to help low-income children and whose newspaper ads carry the tagline: "Parental school choice is widespread—unless you’re poor." Friedman, an economist, has written that "the privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable private industry."
PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas said that Community Voice or Captive of the Right? demonstrates how right-wing foundations are using BAEO to further their broader agenda of privatizing education.
"If you look closely at the money behind the message, you find it is coming from some foundations and individuals with an extreme agenda," explained Neas. "These foundations are pushing vouchers even though there is no good evidence that they will improve education. If these foundations really cared about African-American children, they would be spending their money to help push for smaller classes, expanded funding for Title I and other approaches that can truly make a difference for minority students."
This view was echoed by the Rev. Timothy McDonald, chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council.
"Whether its leaders recognize it or not, BAEO is serving as a tool for some very extreme groups that do not have the best interests of African-Americans at heart," said McDonald. "Our community deserves to know the truth about the people who are funding BAEO and the destructive agenda they have for African-American families."
The PFAWF report also notes that several members of BAEO’s board of directors work for companies that either service charter schools or would otherwise stand to gain financially from further privatizing the public education system.
In addition, Community Voice or Captive of the Right? finds that two members of BAEO’s board have overseen or worked at voucher or charter schools that were "de-chartered" or expelled from a state-funded program. The PFAWF report also includes appendices with summaries of recent research on vouchers, including the General Accounting Office’s finding that studies show "little or no statistically significant differences" between the performance of voucher students and public school students.
Right-wing leaders and organizers have increasingly tried to cultivate African American spokespersons in an attempt to improve their image and outreach in the Black community. BAEO is the latest step in this ongoing effort. BAEO promotes itself as a grassroots organization devoted to increasing educational opportunity for poor children, but BAEO is serving as a vehicle for the Right to advance an extreme agenda that would shatter—not reform—public education.