In March 1999, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning (ITL) at Marquette University convened the First Annual Symposium, a meeting of 150 Black people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to discuss parental choice and the educational challenges facing disadvantaged Black families in America. At that time, the charter school movement was growing, and parental choice was gaining currency among progressive policymakers and at the grassroots. Symposium participants focused on the need for greater choice and better options within the Black community, and agreed that a national organization of Black America for Black America would best advance this cause. Consequently, December 3–5, 1999, 50 dedicated Black leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for the organizing meeting of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). The founders adopted the name of the organization, the mission statement and BAEO’s general principles.
The Second Annual Symposium, hosted again by ITL, drew approximately 350 attendees, 90 of whom met subsequently to continue organizing BAEO. At this meeting, participants reviewed the first draft of the organization’s bylaws and elected Dr. Howard Fuller as President of the Board (the title was later changed to Chair of the Board). A 29-member board formed and met for the first time on June 17, 2000. The organization officially launched with a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on August 24, 2000.
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 continues to inform, inspire, and empower at the Annual Symposium, which has become the largest gathering of parental choice advocates and education reformers in the country. Read more information about other programs and activities that augment BAEO’s local advocacy and outreach work.