The Reformer's Dozen: DFER's Federal Candidates

by Democrats for Education Reform

Distributed among the recipients below

DFER's mission is to encourage a more productive dialogue within the Democratic Party on the need to fundamentally reform American public education. The candidates below are DFER's top electoral priorities for 2014. Please give as generously as you can.

The maximum individual contribution is $5,000 per candidate, or $60,000 among all twelve.

Image of Mark Begich

Mark Begich


Mark Begich is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in Alaska.

Begich is a likable moderate and a sophisticated policymaker, who is intent on generating change from the senate. He has proven that he is willing to rock the boat on education. In 2011, alongside fellow moderate colleagues Senators Landrieu, Hagan, and Coons, he led an (ultimately abortive) effort to reauthorize and substantially reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

In 2008, Begich pulled out a shocking victory, unseating the longest tenured Republican senator in the body’s history. He beatthe late Senator Ted Stevens (who was scandal plagued but still immensely popular) by less than 4,000 votes.

Alaska remains a deep red state; President Obama lost the state by 14 points in 2012. Before Begich, Alaskans hadn’t sent a Democrat to either the House or Senate since 1981.

The former mayor of Anchorage, Begich is well known throughout Alaska. But his strongest likely opponent for 2014 – Republican Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell – is as well. He trailed the incumbent Begich by only 10 points in polling done in late January 2013.

We need to protect education leaders like Mark Begich in the U.S. Senate. And he needs your generous support to defend his post.

Image of Chris Coons

Chris Coons


Chris Coons of Delaware is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate.

We were proud to back Coons when he ran for senate in 2008. Even before he drew kooky Christine O’Donnell as an opponent, we were excited about his thoughtful stances on education policy.

He has proven to be the pragmatic education reformer we expected. Popular among his peers, Coons has earned a reputation as a moderate thought-leader and consensus-builder. He worked with Bob Casey on a bill to establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund, a competitive funding pool to encourage states to extend high-quality early learning to low-income kids – the idea helped to inform the RTTT Early Learning Challenge. He cosponsored the successful America COMPETES Reauthorization, which among other things, created grant funding for STEM education. And, like Senators Landrieu, Hagan, and Begich, Coons was part of a small education reform caucus that proposed reimagining the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the context of its reauthorization.

We want to see Coons climb into leadership, which requires your help to stock his campaign coffers.

Image of Kay Hagan

Kay Hagan


Kay Hagan is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

A member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, Hagan is a critical voice on fixing public education. Her focus on accountability and innovation makes her a vital policymaker to the cause.

Hagan is a true moderate, who is very well respected among her peers. In 2011, she was part of a small group of senators (along with Landrieu, Coons, and Begich) that made significant headway toward attempting to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Their Statement of Principles outlined updating accountability mechanisms, bolstering federal support of school turnaround, and expanding Race to the Top and i3. Although the effort was ultimately stymied in the senate, its principles guided the ESEA waiver process and will undeniably inform eventual changes to the law.

Hagan’s first senate campaign in 2008 was energetic and flawlessly executed, yet her win against the well-known incumbent Liddy Dole was regarded as something of a surprise by pundits. Hagan surely benefited from President Obama’s momentum but that effect may have been overstated – she earned more votes in North Carolina than the President did.

Still, Hagan will face a challenging campaign in 2014. North Carolina remains a red state (Romney won narrowly in 2012) and there is a crowded field of Republicans rumored to be interested in challenging her. Senator Hagan will need your early and generous support in order to return for a second term.

Image of Mary Landrieu

Mary Landrieu


Mary Landrieu is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in Louisiana.

Landrieu has been one of the senate’s most vocal leaders on education reform since she was first elected in 1996. She reached across the aisle soon after arriving in D.C. to advance the D.C. Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997. More than a decade later, she was still pushing the envelope – in 2008, she sponsored a bipartisan bill honoring the achievements of charter school students.

As the Senior Senator from Louisiana and sister of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Mary is a uniquely credible advocate for the dramatic changes underway in New Orleans. Of charter schools’ role in the recovery, she said: “The educational entrepreneurship of public charter schools has been integral to the city's recovery. They are inspiring positive changes throughout the system, as other schools work to cultivate the same benefits.”

Landrieu was also one of a few moderate Democratic senators who worked tirelessly on a proposal for meaningfully changing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Louisiana consistently poses a tough challenge for statewide Democrats. When Landrieu was elected to the senate in 1996, she won by 5,800 votes out of 1.7 million cast. In 2008, her reelection race was by far the closest of any Democratic incumbent. Without the excitement of having President Obama on the ticket, we expect 2014 to be much closer.

In her past reelection bids, Landrieu raised more than double her opponents’ fundraising totals but, this cycle, she begins with less of a head start. One likely opponent, Congressman Bill Cassidy, already has two million dollars on hand, just $500,000 less than Landrieu.

This promises to be the tightest race among DFER’s federal priorities for 2014. Senator Landrieu needs your immediate, generous support in order to keep leading her peers in Washington.

Image of Brian Schatz

Brian Schatz


Brian Schatz, the new senator from Hawaii, is up for his first election to the senate in 2014.

Schatz has only been in the Senate for a few months; he was appointed last December to replace the late Senator Daniel Inouye. But we’re already excited about his prospects as an education reform leader.

He is young and pragmatic. Schatz was a very early Obama supporter in Hawaii and ultimately served as a spokesman for the 2008 campaign. He also knows education well. Schatz’s twin brother – an early Teach For America alum – is the assistant superintendent for school reform under Hawaii’s Race to the Top program.

Schatz’s connections in Hawaii Democratic politics run deep – he is a former Lieutenant Governor and chairman of the state Democratic Party. Yet, in a steady blue state like Hawaii, tough primary contests are not uncommon.

As with the appointment of Michael Bennet in 2009, the governor opted not to choose the most obvious candidate for the seat. So, as Bennet did in 2010, Schatz may well face a primary challenge in 2014.

Schatz is young and extremely talented, and expect him to be a leader in the senate for many years. But he will need to demonstrate serious fundraising prowess in the coming months to stave off any serious challengers.

Image of Rob Andrews

Rob Andrews


Rob Andrews is running for reelection to the U.S. House in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District.

A consistently moderate voice from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Andrews is among the highest seniority Democratic members of the critical House Committee on Education and Labor. He has also proven his ability to work across party lines – in 2011, he voted aye on the newly constituted committee’s first education reform bill, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.

Andrews’ district is a consistently Democratic one, and he is quite popular among his constituents, so his house seat should be safe for as long as he likes. But his influence with his peers and his willingness to consider outside-the-box solutions mean he needs support from education reformers like us.

Image of Andre Carson

Andre Carson


André Carson is running for reelection to the U.S. House in Indiana’s 7th Congressional District.

Carson worked in law enforcement and served on the Indianapolis City Council before winning a special election in 2008 for the U.S. House seat previously occupied by his grandmother, the late Representative Julia Carson. Carson’s childhood neighborhood was a rough one. He would often pass by drug dealers on his way to school. Carson used this experience as motivation to make a better life for himself, and that work started in the classroom.

Carson often talks about his own educational background. In speeches on education, Carson points out that he struggled early in school because his learning style did not mesh with the curriculum. He stresses the need for schools to embrace creative teaching models and move away from “one-size-fits-all” education.

As the representative for the most urban part of a state that is dramatically reshaping its public schools, Carson’s endorsement of progressive education policies is invaluable. Carson is a positive and exuberant presence, who is uniquely capable of winning over his constituents and community. And the passion for education runs deep in his family, with his wife, Mariama, serving as a school principal and highly-decorated teacher.

The district is a steady Democratic one, and Carson’s ability to fundraise could do wonders for his profile among his peers in congress.

Image of Ruben Hinojosa

Ruben Hinojosa


Rubén Hinojosais running for reelection to the U.S. House in the 15th Congressional District of Texas.

Hinojosa is a long-time education policy thinker; before his election to Congress, he served for a decade on the Texas Board of Education. He was also involved in creating a system of magnet high schools in South Texas – these schools send more than 95% of their graduates to universities or technical colleges. And he was the founding board chair of South Texas Community College. Today, he is among the highest seniority Democratic members of the vital House Committee on Education and Labor.

Hinojosa is a strong progressive, who we trust to help promote high quality public schools. Despite Republicans’ past redistricting efforts, his majority-Latino district remains strongly Democratic, so we expect Hinojosa to be reelected handily. As his influence among his peers continues to grow, we hope to demonstrate strong support for his efforts.

Image of George Miller

George Miller


George Miller is running for reelection to the U.S. House in California’s 7th Congressional District, which he has served for nearly four decades. A true progressive, Miller is the voice of education reform and the Democratic conscience of the House of Reps.

One anecdote, unearthed in Steven Brill's book Class Warfare, has Miller casting the sole vote (1-434) in support of an amendment he drafted to require states receiving federal dollars to certify that their teachers were only teaching subjects in which they were qualified. This was in 1994. By 2007, Miller had climbed the ranks to the chairmanship of the House Education and Labor Committee, where he remains the ranking member.

Over the years, Miller has crafted some of the most impactful federal education legislation ever and stewarded it to passage. In 2011, DFER bestowed him with the Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award, which is roughly equivalent to our hall of fame.

George Miller is not going to lose – not since 1974 has he received less than 60% of the vote – but he still merits your enthusiastic support. Fundraising prowess translates to political sway, and we need Miller to have all the sway he can.

Image of Jared Polis

Jared Polis


Jared Polis is running for reelection to the U.S. House in Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. Jared is a freethinking, unapologetic progressive who is at once idealistic and totally pragmatic.

Before heading to Washington, Jared’s philanthropic endeavors, which included founding two charter schools, were incisive and impactful. The education bills he’s proposed since being elected, like one that would improve principal training and another that would link Title I funding to teacher evaluations, are pretty inspired. What’s more, his support for other house members and his finely tuned political sensibilities make him a highly effective messenger to his peers.

Jared’s tenure in Congress has overlapped almost perfectly with DFER’s growth as organization, and for good reason: Jared has been personally supportive of DFER’s efforts throughout the years, just as we’ve tried to help demonstrate that he’s not alone in thinking about progressive reforms to schools. Jared even delivered the keynote address at DFER’s education town hall at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Earlier this year, Jared was named candidate services chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His meteoric rise demonstrates the importance of proving that our champions have a nationwide base of support. With your help, Jared will continue to be one of the foremost leaders in the house.

Image of Brad Schneider OLD

Brad Schneider OLD


Brad Schneider is running forreelection to the U.S. House in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District.

Brad is a moderate, pragmatic Dem and a great example of why the messenger matters. He’s a consensus-builder – not a firebrand – and his careful messaging promises to do wonders on Capitol Hill. When he talks about progressive reforms to education policy, he always focuses on serving students.

Although he chooses his words carefully, Brad is knowledgeable and passionate about fixing public education. He wants to expand Race to the Top and other competitive federal grant programs. He talks about setting high standards of accountability and creating systems that enable stakeholders to reach those standards.

In 2012, we described Brad as “one of the country’s best opportunities to pick off an incumbent Republican.” He proved us right, eking out a victory by less than one percent against a talented Republican incumbent.

Although this district leans Democratic in presidential elections, it has historically been represented by a Republican. We remain confident that Brad will be able to defend his seat, but he will need ample resources to do so.

Image of Bobby Scott

Bobby Scott


Bobby Scott is running for reelection to the U.S. House in Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, which is centered around Richmond and Norfolk.

Over the years, Scott has proven that he deserves the wild popularity he has among his constituents. He has a reputation for asking deep and incisive questions before casting his vote, as he did in 2011, before voting to approve the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.

Scott is also deeply influential among his peers. He is among the highest seniority Democratic members of the critical House Committee on Education and Labor, below Ranking Member George Miller.

Scott won reelection by more than 200,000 votes (out of 318,936 cast) in 2012, helping President Obama secure his own narrow victory in Virginia. The state has been trending purple in recent years, making popular Democratic leaders there ever more politically important.

As a consistent and prominent education reformer in the house and a growing national political presence, Bobby Scott undoubtedly merits our support.

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