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Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) Fades Into a White-Moneyed Sunset

November 5, 2017

Two issues concerning school choice advocate Kevin Chavous happened in close succession: On October 26, 2017, BusinessWire announced that Chavous– who was already a board member for the for-profit, online education company, K12, Inc.– would now become the company’s “president of academics, policy, and schools.”

Chavous is an established promoter of school choice, including both charter schools and private school vouchers.

I address Chavous’ K12 rise in this post.

One day later, on October 27, 2017, the school choice organization, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), another Chavous-associated organization, offered a “special announcement” to its supporters noting that BAEO plans to cease operations at the end of 2017.

The announcement does not clarify the reason for BAEO’s decision. Furthermore, the BAEO announcement includes the following paragraphs in which BAEO says, so to speak, “Yes, our organization should be a school choice leader, but we’re quitting because ‘times have changed'”:

For nearly 20 years, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) has been relentless in ensuring low-income and working-class Black parents are empowered to choose high-quality educational options for their children. It has been a long, arduous journey full of triumphs and setbacks.  Through it all, we strived to remain steadfast to our mission and purpose. But times have changed.
We know there is much more to accomplish in the education reform space, and that an unapologetically Black-led organization should be at the forefront of the ongoing struggle for high-quality schools. However, we have decided that it is time to cease operations at BAEO, and our sister organization, BAEO Action Fund (BAF), effective December 31, 2017.

Concerning BAEO closure, the American Federation for Children (AFC) (yet another Chavous connection), offered the following statement on October 27, 2017:

After the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) announced they would discontinue operations, the American Federation for Children released the following joint statement from three former BAEO board members who are part of AFC’s team:

Statement from Kevin P. Chavous, Ann Duplessis, and Michael Benjamin:

“When we heard the news that the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) would discontinue operations, our collective hearts were heavy. BAEO gave voice and empowerment to thousands of low-income and working-class Black families across the country. Their work was defined by the spirit, courage, and vision of its founder, presidents, board members, senior staff members, employees, state teams, affiliates, and advocates for a better future for children in America. We are proud of their relentless work and offer special thanks to Dr. Howard Fuller, our tireless and steadfast leader, who led this exceptional group of freedom fighters for the betterment of the educational future of families and children. Though BAEO as an organization will cease to exist, their cause, their passion and their legacy will continue for generations.

“Always partners and yes, the struggle continues.”

Kevin P. Chavous – Founding AFC board member and former Board Chair of BAEO

Ann Duplessis – AFC board member and former BAEO Board Member

Michael Benjamin – AFC National Grassroots Director and former BAEO Board Member

Former BAEO Staff at AFC:

Christa Andrews – Alabama Grassroots 

Alkinee Jackson – Louisiana Grassroots 

Carra Powell – Tennessee Grassroots

Note that AFC is the school choice organization formerly chaired by intense school choice (particularly voucher) advocate, US secretary of education Betsy DeVos. Note also that Chavous is a former BAEO board member and current AFC board member (and that the AFC-BAEO connection is pretty firm and also includes others).

Examination of the choice- (especially voucher-) promoting nonprofits shows a longstanding relationship among them. (More to come on this.) First, a bit about BAEO funding– then we shift into BAEO history and connection with other notable school- (especially voucher-) choice-promoting nonprofits.

At the end of 2015, BAEO showed a noted decrease in revenue from the previous year ($7.4 million in 2014 compared to $3.6 million in 2015). Despite the drop in revenue from 2014 to 2015, BAEO spent slightly more in total expenses ($5.4 million in 2014 compared to $6 million in 2015), which put BAEO in the hole in 2015 (-$2 million 2015 revenue-less-expenses). Even so, by the end of 2015, BAEO had net assets of $4.4 million. What the organization had as far as net assets by the end of 2016 is not yet publicly available.

Meanwhile, DeVos-chaired AFC demonstrated a 2015 financial situation opposite of BAEO, with AFC revenue increasing from $3.6 million in 2014 to $6 million in 2015. Spending remained relatively constant ($6.2 million in 2014 and $6.1 million in 2015). Too, AFC revenue-less-expenses went from -$2.6 million in 2014 to $8,557 in 2015. AFC’s 2015 end-of-year net assets were $2.6 million. But what matters is whether or not the millions continue to come in.

As for Chavous: In 2015, AFC paid him $412,485 total compensation in his role as “executive counsel.”

An important distinction between BAEO and AFC is that AFC is a lobbying nonprofit (501c4) and BAEO is not (501c3). Thus, while BAEO spent much of its money on trying to mobilize the public behind vouchers, AFC spent much of its money delivering grants, mostly to other, state-level, lobbying nonprofits. Remember: Betsy DeVos follows the ALEC course of purchasing political will at the state level.

In 2015, BAEO tried its hand at forming an associated, lobbying nonprofit, BAEO Action Fund. It had $1 million in revenue, which it spent as follows:

Political activities in Louisiana and Tennessee to support candidate (sp.) and influence their election and non-political activities to building capacity among diverse sectors of the electorate, infrastructure set-up, non-partisan voter registration, educating the electorate around parental choice and high-quality educational options, and engaging a network of volunteers to participate civically.

As for some more of the overlap among nonprofits interested in promoting school vouchers, let us consider some AFC history, including its connection with the Alliance for School Choice.

Recall that AFC (EIN 33-0627955) is a lobbying nonprofit centered on school choice. According to its 2015 tax form, the AFC mission is as follows:

THE AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN IS THE LEADING NATIONAL ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION PROMOTING SCHOOL CHOICE, WITH SPECIFIC FOCUS ON ADVOCATING FOR SCHOOL VOUCHERS, SCHOLARSHIP TAX CREDIT PROGRAMS AND EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

THE AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN IS A 501(C)(4) ORGANIZATION

WE ARE AFFILIATED WITH THE AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN ACTION FUND, A POLITICAL COMMITTEE THAT SUPPORTS AND OPPOSES STATE-LEVEL CANDIDATES FOR ELECTED OFFICE, AND WE WORK CLOSELY WITH OUR EDUCATIONAL PARTNER, THE ALLIANCE FOR SCHOOL CHOICE, A 501(C)(3) ORGANIZATION, TO PROMOTE THE BENEFITS OF AND THE NEED FOR SCHOOL
CHOICE

Prior to being renamed AFC in 2009, AFC had a name that more obviously aligned with its mission, the Advocates for School Choice, which had been the organization’s name since 2004. This nonprofit has been around since 1996 in another state and by another name (not yet discovered) and is related to the Alliance for School Choice (EIN 52-2111508), which became a nonprofit in 1999 and also once operated under a different name, American Education Reform Council. (i.e., see this 2001 tax form).

AFC (aka Advocates for School Choice) predates Alliance for School Choice (aka American Education Reform Council). According to the AERC 2001 tax form, the AERC president was Susan Mitchell of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Furthermore, $245,214 in revenue is tagged as “Marquette Project Revenue.”

BAEO was formed in 1999 at Marquette University in Wisconsin. According to the AERC 2001 tax form, Howard Fuller of Marquette University sat on the AERC board, as did Betsy DeVos of the Michigan-based Windquest Group, which “forms disruptive companies.”

According to AERC’s 2001 tax form, Marquette paid AERC $245,214 “to perform various work and research on [Marquette’s] school choice program.”

When AERC changed its name to AFC in 2009, Chavous came aboard. That is how AFC can call him a “founding board member.”

Other interesting connections:

Fuller’s wife, Deborah McGriff, is listed as “acting chair/vice chair” on BAEO’s 2015 return. Fuller is listed as “chairman emeritus.” Her “family member,” Jacqueline Cooper, is listed as “chief of staff/acting president.” Cooper was compensated $210,797 in 2015 plus a bonus of $34,000. Neither McGriff nor Fuller received compensation.

Kevin Chavous’ cousin, Dawn, an established ed reformer in her own right, also sat on the BAEO board, as secretary. In 2015, she received no compensation.

Howard Fuller is listed as the chairman of the BAEO Action Fund. His wife’s “family member,” Jacqueline Cooper, is the BAEO Action Fund president. Neither Cooper nor Fuller received compensation from BAEO Action Fund.

BAEO’s current board of directors page still includes Howard Fuller; wife, Deborah McGriff; Kevin Chavous and cousin, Dawn.

The now-closing BAEO offers these school choice accolades on its website:

BAEO has grown to become the preeminent national organization for those who support high-quality educational options for low-income and working-class Black children. With its national office in Washington, DC, BAEO has established chapters and mobilization sites in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Missouri, Ohio, and Philadelphia; and the organization has active operations in the southern states.

Since its formal launch in 2000, BAEO has been at the forefront of some of the most important victories on the parental choice front.

  • In the District of Columbia, Kevin P. Chavous helped shape the three-sector education partnership with the federal government, which in addition to supporting a robust charter schools program, led to funding of the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. BAEO’s leadership has been critical in maintaining support for this landmark initiative, which has allowed 2,000 low-income children to escape failing schools and attend high-performing private schools.
  • In Louisiana, BAEO’s work resulted in two Black Democrats sponsoring a private school scholarship bill that Republican governor Bobby Jindal signed into law in 2008. Under this law, the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program allows approximately 1,600 low-income children in New Orleans to attend private schools.
  • In Florida, BAEO supported the work of John Kirtley and Michael Benjamin whose efforts resulted in the extension of the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program—with the help of a full third of Democrats in the Legislature, including 13 of 25 members of the state’s Black Caucus.
  • In Pennsylvania, the support and leadership of BAEO board members Representative Dwight Evans and Senator Anthony Williams were crucial to the creation, protection, and expansion of the tax credit and charter programs. They were also instrumental in passing the law that led to the state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia, which has led to an increase in quality educational options for poor families.
  • In Ohio, BAEO was instrumental in ensuring the passage of two programs that extend choice to thousands of the state’s neediest families: the Ohio Educational Choice (EdChoice) Scholarship program offers private-school tuition to students transferring from low-performing public schools; and the Autism Scholarship Program (ASP) gives the parents of children with autism the choice to send the students to special education programs outside their districts of residence to receive the services outlined in their individualized education programs.

BAEO has outlived its usefulness. However, the white privilege financing behind BAEO is still alive and well (for more on those funders, click here for my BAEO chapter from my book, A Chronicle of Echoes), and it seems to just be regrouping. It seems that a “preeminent” school choice organization portrayed as a “black alliance” is no longer necessary.

If its white funders disappear, so does the black alliance. However, the white-funded disruption via questionable education options remains.

sunset 2

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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