- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

A former public school superintendent yesterday kicked off a national campaign committed to giving poor black children educational opportunities beyond their neighborhood public schools.
"School choice is widespread in America, unless you are poor," Howard Fuller told reporters yesterday at a news briefing in Washington, where he introduced officers and board members of the newly-formed Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).
"What's new is that we want low-income parents to have the same cherished option all of us in this room would fight for for our own children," said Mr. Fuller, former superintendent of Milwaukee public schools.
Mr. Fuller, president of BAEO, stressed that when this group talks about school choice, it is not just referring to tax-financed vouchers to allow low-income children to attend private schools.
"We support all choices … whether they be charter schools or independent black schools, tuition tax credits, home schools or voucher programs or private-public partnerships," he said.
In materials distributed to reporters, BAEO also listed "innovations in existing public school systems" as a step that can be taken to give parents greater educational choices.
Under questioning by an official of the National School Board Association who was in the audience, Mr. Fuller denied that BAEO seeks the demise of public education.
"We are very supportive of public schools … for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of our kids will be in public schools," he said.
"We're trying to reinvent public education" to put more emphasis on academic achievement, Mr. Fuller explained. "We think that's good news for everybody."
He cited an article in Monday's edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported that Wisconsin's school voucher program for low-income Milwaukee families is expected to grow by 2,000 students this year.
The newspaper said about $50 million in public money will be paid to private schools most of them religious schools that participate in the choice program.
However, the big news for school-choice advocates in the article is that the Milwaukee public schools system is spending $100 million for a new neighborhood schools plan. School officials conceded the purpose of the plan is to convince parents that neighborhood public schools meet the wants and needs of their children and themselves.
"We understand we'll be criticized. But if you confront the status quo, you will be criticized. This is a confrontation about who is going to control the education of our children," said Mr. Fuller.
If parents regardless of income decide a local public school is not meeting the needs of their child in terms of teacher quality, academic excellence, or discipline, "they should have the right to choose another venue option," he said.
BAEO will take its message directly to the American people. It will begin with a paid public informational campaign that starts Sunday.
The campaign will feature quarter-page ads that appear in several national newspapers, including The Washington Times, and 18 community newspapers that primarily serve black audiences.
Mr. Fuller said BAEO is beginning operations with a budget of nearly $900,000, donated by several foundations.

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