A secret memo commissioned by the Walton Education Coalition sought to analyze why the well-funded charter advocates were beaten handily in a Massachusetts referendum in 2016 on expanding charter schools.

The memo says the opposition trusted teachers more than the governor. The opposition had a simple message: charters are funded at the expense of the local public schoools. The charter lobbyists thought they could threaten a referendum, and the legislature would cave and lift the charter cap to avoid a referendum. But the anti-charter forces refused to compromise and took it to the public.

Families for Excellent Schools, the hedge funders group, thought that the aggressive tactics they had used successfully in New York would work in Massachusetts. They didn’t, and FES was fined nearly half a million dollars for campaign finance violations (concealing the names of its donors) and banned from the Bay State for five years (FES disbanded soon afterwards).

What the analysis doesn’t acknowledge is that Massachusetts was a terrible choice to launch a charter campaign. On NAEP, it is the most successful state in the nation. It has a strong tradition of local control. Families are very attached to their town schools. Threaten the funding of the local public school, and you hit a hornets’ nest.

The pro-charter campaign was hurt too by the public recognition that it was fueled by out-of-state funding.

The opposition to charter expansion was well-organized and grassroots. The two national teachers unions spent millions, enough to stay competitive, but we’re outspent by the charter supporters by many more millions. Without their financial help (no dark money!), the charter industry would have owned the airwaves.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, led by Barbara Madeloni, organized teachers and collaborated with school committees to fight off the charter invasion. Almost every school committee in the state opposed Question 2.

Volunteers, parents, and activists turned out to defend public schools.

The only towns that voted to expand charters were affluent communities that expected they would never get a charter. Where charters already existed, the opposition ran strong because they knew there was less money for their town schools.

The defeat of Question 2 in Massachusetts was a very important milestone in the fight against privatization.