"Improving education is not the goal. Privatization is the goal... Private interests are just that – private." — Bruce A. Dixon (Managing Editor, "Black Agenda Report")
Families in Schools (FIS) is a far right-wing school privatization advocacy group with deep ties to and ample funding by the lucrative charter-voucher school industry. They are outspoken advocates for former President George W. Bush's discredited and destructive No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. As part of their campaign to eliminate all vestiges of public schools, they were one of the leading voices in the corporate din pushing LAUSD's Yolie Flores-Aguilar's corporate charter giveaway motion, deceptively named Public School Choice (PSC).
FIS is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation, Walmart Foundation, and others including JPMorgan Chase. While the latter of the three isn't known for promoting school privatization yet, the former two certainly are. Annenberg Foundation is one of the leading advocates outside of the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate of school privatization via charter-voucher schools. Obviously, the Walmart Foundation is guided by the Walton heirs, and their agenda is well known. As vehement opponents to public education, The Annenberg and Waltons massive wealth funnels into countless 501C3 proxies supporting school privatization around the country. In Los Angeles, FIS is joined by several other organizations whose sole existence is to provide material support and political cover for the charter-voucher school sector including Families That Can (FTC), Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), Parent Revolution (neé Los Angeles Parents Union), and the California Charter School Association in their efforts to privatize schools. FIS' board of directors is stacked with business bankers, and wealthy foundation presidents.
FIS is led by long time public education enemy Maria Casillas. Casillas is celebrated among charter school executives as an individual who has no scruples about lying and slandering in order to effect her right wing agenda. FIS' 2009 Form Part VII Section A shows Maria Casillas raking in an astonishing $145,333 for her role in school privatization, union busting, and community disenfranchisement. Furthermore, Casillas sits on the boards of other charter advocacy 501C3s, and her tireless work towards privatizing LAUSD and disempowering communities has been rewarded with a second six figure job, now at LAUSD pushing charter-voucher schools under Broad/Gates' Superintendent John Deasy's regime. Known for her foul mouth and Ayn Rand inspired hatred of all things communal, Casillas is considered a pariah by grassroots education activists who struggle against the charter school non-profit industrial complex paid for by the plutocrat class.
The mean-spirited Casillas vitriol for schoolteachers and public schools knows no bounds. At a disgusting press conference on November 10, 2009 she, ABC, Yolie Flores, and other charter proxy groups held in front of UTLA Casillas made the most vile slander against the courageous individuals who educate the children in our communities. In Casillas' speech she accused UTLA of creating a flyer that informed undocumented parents that they could be deported. This flyer was almost certainly created by her or one of her allies  in order to smear UTLA, whose record on defending immigrant rights is exemplary. Casillas went on to say (I was there and this is a direct quote): "UTLA needs to muzzle its dogs" in reference to the pitched community and teacher led opposition campaign to prevent Yolie Flores' PSC privatization scheme from passing.
Given FIS' deep rooted disdain for community organizing, public input to the school board, or anyone that opposes the corporate reform agenda, one would think that anyone in the school district would realize that their privatization agenda clouds all their interactions with public schools. Instead, LAUSD actually hired FIS to write a report on removing the only democratic portion of the PSC — the advisory votes where communities express their desires for whether schools remain public schools or be turned over to privately run charter corporations.
The report, entitled A Report on the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote Process is perhaps one of the most biased and dishonest accounts of the community advisory votes around. Going further than the one sided League of Women Voters' report which ostensibly documented alleged electioneering, the FIS report makes wild and specious accusations towards community groups, schoolteachers, and public employees. There's no mention in FIS' report about any foul play by the well financed charter-voucher school campaigns to seize public schools. Not a peep. Instead it's a smear job against public schools on the highest order. The slanderous report concludes that the advisory votes be done away with altogether and the LAUSD Board of Trustees is about to follow FIS' unqualified advice to remove the last vestiges of public input into a process that hands public schools over to private corporations.
Just to get an idea of how insidious and dishonest the report is, here are some excerpts with my comments illuminating and rebutting them.
Observers reported incidents where applicant teams bused voters in from areas outside of the PSC community to vote as an "other parent" or "community" member. In addition, in some cases, parents and students asked for vote center volunteers to provide them with "proof" of their vote because their teacher or their child's teacher had promised some form of incentive for voting. The LWVLA notified all voters seeking such verification that none would be provided. This raises enormous concerns that parents and students might have been influenced to vote for an applicant without regard for the quality of the plan, based solely on the recommendation of the teacher.
FIS discusses buses here, and insinuates that the teacher lead teams were involved with them. However, in every documented case of buses, they were used by the charter-voucher applicant teams. The photograph above, taken by the author at Rosemont ES during the CRES #14 advisory vote, was one of nearly a dozen brought in by the Camino Nuevo Charter Corporation. Many charters count participation in the advisory votes toward their parents' required "volunteer hours." So here, not only is the information presented in a misleading way in order to implicate public school employees, but the conclusion is erroneous as well. Community members and parents have ample opportunities to familiarize themselves with the plans.
Impacted schools are not welcoming of Public School Choice as a reform strategy. Most school staff, along with their bargaining units, view the PSC strategy as a hostile takeover and are mobilizing their resources to oppose any proposal from external teams. However, at the same time, staff at the impacted schools is trusted by parents and community members to receive objective information about the process and about the school proposals, which creates a significant conflict of interest. Surveys reveal that parents are relying on the school/staff to get information about the process - 78% and about the school plans - 82%.
Community members and social justice advocates view the handing of public schools to private charter corporations as hostile takeovers. Any rational person would. That's besides the point. PSC was never intended as a reform strategy, just a way to grow charter market share. Charter schools are NOT public schools — Most courts have ruled that charter schools are not "public entities." Two well known examples include the California Court of Appeals (2007-01-10) and the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (2010-01-04).
FIS' statement that public school staff are "mobilizing their resources" against outside groups is disingenuous unless coupled with the truth that the charter-voucher schools do the same. Charter corporation actually have many resources at their disposal to get their message across to parents. Notice FIS makes no mention of when charter school staff talk to parents about going to participate in the advisory vote. The report's constant attacks against public schoolteachers and public employee bargaining units sounds identical to that of several midwest governors, not surprising, given their goal is the same. Why shouldn't parents trust teachers or ask them their opinion on who should run the school? Unlike FIS' Maria Casillas, Kaci Patterson, and Oscar Cruz, they don't harbor a sense of deep seated hatred against the hardworking people teaching in our schools.
Protocols for "community" and "other parent" voter categories produce unreliable results as there are no mechanisms to verify voter eligibility at the site. In addition, in both PSC 1.0 and 2.0, applicant teams abused the vague nature of the categories to stack the vote with their supporters.
It is now clear to FIS that the election-style process remains flawed. In addition, there is great concern that with the increased number of impacted schools in PSC 3.0 and in light of limited resources available the challenges faced in PSC 1.0 and PSC 2.0 will only be exacerbated. Therefore, the most significant recommendation submitted by FIS is to replace the advisory vote with strategies that effectively engage parents in learning about school performance, in voicing their concerns and needs, and in providing feedback to the applicant teams.
Rather than fix the protocols, let's eschew the votes altogether? Our communities pay for the schools through our property taxes, but FIS would have our opinions left out of the process. Community members and parents were already disrespected in the regard that our votes are only advisory, and that most LAUSD Board Trustees are interested in satisfying the demands of the wealthy Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) clamoring for more and more of the public commons. Casillas' organization isn't concerned about democracy or what communities want though, so not only do they recommend ending the advisory vote, they offer nothing tangible as a suggested replacement. Feedback? Is that anything like the advisory boards at charter-voucher schools that patronize parents by feigning to listen and then do what their corporate boards demand in order to protect their bottom line? Here FIS isn't even trying to hide their function as a charter advocacy group.
The District should incorporate within its current accountability system, a process that guides and monitors school and local district staff to implement the overall PSC process with integrity and fidelity, welcoming all parties, and enabling parents to participate in the process without fear or intimidation.
This is a slur against public schoolteachers. Will FIS request the California Charter School Association do the same with all the charter schools participating in the process? Or does the mendacious FIS maintain that only public school employees engage in the questionable behavior? Since not all parties are interested in supporting public education, but instead privatization, they shouldn't be welcomed to begin with. Corporate charters are anathema to public education and community.
The recommendation to eliminate the advisory vote comes from understanding that the problems inherent in the process are too many and too large for a quick fix.
Instead of a quick fix, why not a moratorium on the PSC process until a fair and equitable advisory vote process is included? Better still, let's make the advisory vote binding instead of advisory. Even better, let's get rid of PSC altogether!
From the get go, the PSC process pits CMOs and charters with budgets bolstered by billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, The Walton fortune heirs, Reed Hastings, and more against underfunded public schools. It pits charters with professional marketing teams against overworked schoolteachers, scattered community members, and exasperated parents. It pits the corporate reform cheerleading media, happy to write pro-charter applicant team articles, against design teams with no access to publicity. The so-called Public School Choice resolution has never been about public schools, and now that the advisory vote is about to be ditched it should be clear to everyone that it's never been about "choice" either.
In a word, PSC is divisive, elitist, and antidemocratic. Its primary aim from the beginning was to provide the lucrative charter-voucher school industry with market share growth beyond their wildest dreams at the expense of our communities and tax dollars. FIS are shameless right wingers that like their counterparts, The Heritage Foundation, The Heartland Institute, and the Cato Institute, advocate for wholesale dismantling of public education. There's no surprises there.
What's surprising and shameful is that both LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and a good portion of the LAUSD Board of Trustees promoted this report on LAUSD's website and are using the report to justify eliminating the one way communities could make their voices heard.
Join parents on Tuesday May 10, 2011 and demand the district retain the advisory vote or put a moratorium on PSC!
 There was no organization or identifying information of the flyer whatsoever. While it's plausible that an anti-charter element could have created the flyer, it's far more likely that the CCSA proxies like FIS or ABC would have done it in order to delegitimize UTLA at a time when public sentiment was clearly in favor of public schools over charter-voucher schools. It is my strong belief that the flyer was created by ABC's Jarad Sanchez or even Maria Casillas herself . Journalist Caroline Grannan also suspects the 501C3 CCSA proxies of this underhanded tactic. Given that the flyer was allegedly being distributed in the McAuthur Park area, and that the public school plan for Gratts ES had beaten the privatizations plan by Para Los Niños corporation by a 93% to 7% margin in the advisory vote, it flies in the face of logic that the flyer was being passed around by public school supporters.
 Casillas' sense of self importance is so inflated that she created an award for school privatization advocates in her own name called the "Maria A. Casillas Award." First recipient? None other than the queen of school privation, the despicable Yolie Flores-Aguilar. Typically awards with a persons name attached to them are created after a person retires, but not in this shameless case.