Kevin P. Chavous should be every public educator and parent’s nightmare. The Indianapolis-born school reformer chairs the anti-public education Black Alliance for Educational Options’ board of directors. As co-founder of the hedge fund operated group Democrats for Education Reform, he also holds a high position in the astroturf American Federation for Children, whose Indiana-registered PAC has literally funneled millions of Walton Family and DeVos money into Indiana and six other states using the Terre Haute office mailbox address of right-winger lawyer James Bopp, Jr., most despised for his work with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case.

BAEO members have a forest of Gates, Walton, and Milton Friedman money, which they freely use to choke anyone that stands in their way. Case in point, in 2010, after Barack Obama failed to support the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship voucher plan, Chavous took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, condemning the president. For Chavous, Obama’s attack on public education through “Race to the Top” and charter school expansion definitely was not radical enough.

Then there’s Chavous’ cousin, who is a board member of BAEO Philadelphia. In Pennsylvania, Dawn Chavous handles the Students First PAC (which received $1,100,000 from the Indiana-registered American Federation for Children PAC, as Rachel Tabachnick found, and should not be confused with Michelle Rhee’s group of same name), is board president at Oprah-funded Mastery Charter Schools, is on the board of Boys’ Latin Philadephia Charter School, and was chief of staff for state Democrat Anthony Williams. Williams, matter-of-factly, sits on one charter school board with her. His father, Hardy Williams, in 1998, retired from the Pennsylvania Senate hours before the filing deadline for campaign candidates, so Anthony could acquire the necessary signatures and win the election unopposed. For such niceties, Dawn and Anthony named the Hardy Williams Academy Charter School, which now is operated by Mastery, after the old man.

From the get-go, Kevin Chavous and BAEO have ironically made anti-union/anti-public education a “civil rights” issue, often quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems Chavous was one of the first to call education reform the “civil rights issue of our time,” now a cliché shouted by so-called school reformers such as John Legend, Joel Klein, and Al Sharpton.

Many have rightfully criticized BAEO’s antics. Glen Ford, one of the most outspoken intellectuals in the Black community and a staunch opponent of charter schools, once called BAEO co-director Armstrong Williams “the premiere Black political whore in America.” Writers at the Black Commentator have not been friendly to Chavous and crew either. Education scholar Diane Ravitch has also hammered corrupt politicians and pseudo educators who throw around the “civil rights” language. Undoubtedly, the cliche is now one of Tony Bennett’s favorites.

BAEO in Indiana

BAEO Indiana launched operations in 2001. Their leader, Barato Britt, abandoned his post with the charter school operator GEO Foundation to join Chavous’ group soon after. This revolving door tactic should come as no surprise since BAEO was heavily funded by the American Education Reform Council when Kevin Teasley (GEO’s leader) worked for AERC in 1997.

Besides scripting school-reform propaganda for the Indianapolis Recorder and the Heartland Institute (which cheered for the Indiana Parent Trigger Law with ALEC), Britt once fronted the Edna Martin Christian Center, a position he often used to conceal his anti-public education history.

As board member and co-founder of Irving Community School, a public charter in Indianapolis, Britt has set up an anti-public education killer team. Board members include Jeffrey Lozer, a former Ice Miller corporate attorney, past community relations assistant secretary to the charter-operator Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, and previous vice president for DeHaan’s Resort Condominiums International. Presently, Lozer is special counsel to the director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, where he helped carry out the Indiana Department of Education’s Model Evidence-Based Plan for Improving Behavior and Discipline within Schools. Along with Jeffrey Lozer, Arabic specialist Jennifer Suzanne Thuma is or was involved with Irving. She is a former legislative director to Governor Mitch Daniels and was education coordinator to the Indiana General Assembly from 2009 to 2010. Milton Friedman’s Foundation for Educational Choice member Leslie Davis Hiner and Indiana Christian songwriter Michael Welch also join Barato on the Irving Community School board.

Britt supposedly exited his BAEO CEO/president post in 2004. As of October 2010, BAEO’s national website lists no Indiana branch, although media reports often mention it. No record of a present Indiana director can be unearthed online either.

Bennett, Chavous, and Jeb Bush: Voucher Matches Made in Heaven

Last year, Tony Bennett and Kevin Chavous took stage with Jeb Bush at a State Policy Network’s education event on privatizing the schools. With branches in almost every single state, the SPN is a Ronald Reagan-inspired, right-wing network fighting to end collective bargaining for union members and to establish more charter schools, as Mother Jones magazine recently noted. The SPN has even highlighted articles Bennett has written. The SPN’s Hoosier affiliate is the free enterprise group Indiana Policy Review Foundation, once headed by Indiana’s U.S. House member and anti-women creep Mike Pence, who is now running for Indiana governor. The Indy-based Sagamore Institute is in bed with the SPN, too, and their Ryan Streeter recently offered his praise of Indiana’s anti-public education agenda in a piece in the Weekly Standard.

In many ways, Jeb Bush is as much or more of a hero to Tony Bennett as is Kevin Chavous. Although ideas to demolish public education go back to Milton Friedman’s 1955 voucher essay, the Daniels-Bennett sawed-off shotgun-attack is drawn straight out of the Jeb Bush playbook. In Florida, Bush gave letter grades to schools and practiced holding kids back from the 4th grade on their reading scores, two of Indiana’s plans. Admittedly, stressing that children always come first, Tony Bennett joined Jeb Bush’s “Children’s Union” (sometimes referred to as “Chiefs for Change”) along with educational leaders Deborah Gist of Rhode Island, Virginia’s Gerard Robinson, Florida’s Eric Smith, and Louisiana’s Paul Pastorek.

A few days before speaking together at the Indianapolis screening of Waiting for Superman this January, Bennett and Chavous joined hands with Jeb, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Morris to take the pledge of the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice to celebrate National School Choice Week. For his role, Bennett organized an “Eggs and Education” breakfast event with local legislators to push the Friedman organization’s corporate ideas.

Several months ago, Chavous, the Heartland Institute, and EAG’s Kyle Olson (who filmed Tony Bennett for his anti-education movie, Kids Aren’t Cars) conveniently found the “new Rosa Parks,” Ohio’s Kelley Williams-Bolar who was arrested for falsifying documents so her daughters could attend school out of their district. The story was every voucher/parent trigger supporter’s dream, even though Williams-Bolar said the reason she wanted her children to attend school in her father’s district was they would be safer after school at his house. Even some liberals were screaming school choice and emailing petitions to stop the “new Rosa Parks” from landing in prison. For the mainstream media, the “new Rosa Parks” was the best show since Waiting for Superman. Al Sharpton even fitfully gospelled for school choice on Dr. Phil. One more story has since surfaced of an innocent mother going to jail because of the evils of the public school system. Expect many more in the coming days as other states like Pennsylvania take up voucher and other anti-public education issues.

Doug Martin

Doug Martin

Doug Martin is a Walt Whitman scholar, poet, fiction writer, editor, musician (the Delicious Militia), and teacher.