Charter schools in California band together as an embattled group, agitating for hostile takeover of the Public Commons. They serially convene, dissolve and reform a plethora of working groups to bombard public schools with “messaging” and disinformation.  The groups as well as charters themselves of course, drain resources from schools, necessitating capital (monetary and human) defending what should be protected by the people, for the people.

One of these itinerant ideologues is Ben Austin, founder of the “Parent Trigger”, who in 2014 resigned from his astroturf group to foment a new one, Kids First. A collection of emails made public by the municipal-transparency site uncovered a set of strategies developed among this cabal, reported by Howard Blume at the LATimes here and here.

The collusion, as one of them explains elsewhere, is “all about the messaging”. And the message revealed in aggregate over 5000+ emails, lays out a very stark code-shift. The catchy phrase, “kids first”, is a logical fallacy. Iterated unceasingly by charter advocates, it simultaneously casts aspersions on a presumed alternative (‘a time or place when kids were not first’) even while kids in schools have always been “first”. But consistent with the ideology of long-standing and now charter-mega-funders Koch and Walton (among others), that term “kids first” effectively codes for “anti-union”. Because if formerly it were true that kids were not first, it would be the fault of the system that transposed their status, their teacher’s union. ‘If the proper order of kids is not upheld, it must be the fault of their teachers’ is the sly message.

Likewise there is a constant drum-beat against “bureaucracy” and “adult issues” but that too is simply code for “anti-regulation”. Charter schools aren’t really about finding a better way around bureaucracy. It is reviled incessantly, but the rules they denounce are precepts of democratic transparency, safety, efficiency, equity – cumbersome perhaps but the tenets of our republic. Instead the path they forge is of non-accountability: government funding without regulation. And this, even while the maxim “another day another charter school scandal” has been commonplace for decades now.

It is with /*codebook on*/ that Austin’s memo-to-charter-selves:


and addendum must be read:


Proposed are initiatives (referenced by order # in parentheses) to:

  • attack organized labor (#8, “Attack UTLA” (teacher’s union)), and
  • redesign the public sector.

The playbook is all about:

  • forcing legal precedent (#3, “Establishing students as a legally protected class”; #6, “Equal protection lawsuit”; #5, “Undocumented parents voting”) and
  • complicated rules to drive transfer of public schools into charter hands.

Doubling down on:

  • Public School Choice” (PSC) (#4, “PSC 2.0”),
  • trigger laws that privatize public schools (#7, “Parent trigger 2.0”),
  • harnessing definitions to complicated metrics that (a) require technology and specialists to devise and analyze (#10, ” First Index”); and (b) link the “public school framework” (PSF) to deceptively or artlessly quantified metrics.

These are “powerful” tools for segregating, dismantling and subsuming public schools. The endgame would establish a shadow-school network dedicated to operating with neither institutional nor labor regulations. The relentless drive is enjoined through well-honed and well–funded

  • PR campaigns (#1, “Candidate recruitment, training and support”; #2, “Pro-charter board resolution and legislative strategy”; #9, “Ed Reform Framing and Language Center”).

These are insights into one permutation of LA’s hundreds of charters and Charter Management Organizations, combined with a myriad of “educational partners” – Not-For-Profit consultants, service-providers, strategists, vendors, contractors, operatives.

Beyond the specifics of this “Kids First” (aka “Kids Coalition”) incarnation, the archives of enumerate a multiplicity of these groups formed, forming, and reforming, always. Just as Ben Austin jumped from Parent Union to Parent Revolution to Kids First, and his one-time partner Steve Barr from Green Dot (the source of many of the emails) to Future Is Now, personnel are shuffled among these organizations, mixing and matching new-sounding groups all the time.

Like an unremitting onslaught on the field of battle, this group includes among others, Green Dot’s CEO Cristina de Jesus, and CCSA operatives Cassy Horton and Myrna Castrejon, late of Great Public Schools Now, alma mater of board member Nick Melvoin and some of his staff as well (who in turn have links to Parent Revolution, etc). And these members overlap yet another newly formed 4 dozen-strong Los Angeles Advocacy Council (LAAC), and a revolving door from the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) to certain board members’ and District staff’s offices.

The incestuous relations bring a sameness to prescribed solutions, as well as observations and assertions . It’s as if creating more and more groups from the same core of operatives will boost some likelihood of success, like throwing a variety against the proverbial wall to see what sticks.

This is a dangerous way to drive educational policy. It constricts vision and is inherently biased. And it glorifies a structural chaos that is antithetical to the calm necessary for learning. Reshuffling the deck leaves the number of cards unchanged. Why is the charter lobby so eager to confuse?