Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) was formed in 2007 to address one of the greatest civil rights issues of our generation: education.
Despite the Democratic Party’s deep roots as the party for equity, too many Democratic leaders were protecting a public education system that maintained a deeply inequitable status quo.
DFER provided the vision, political cover, and infrastructure to elect and support leaders, like then Senate-candidates Barack Obama and Michael Bennet, and then Mayor Cory Booker, who believed a better future was possible for every child—especially for those who have historically been poorly served by our nation’s education system.
DFER provided the vision, political cover, and infrastructure to elect and support leaders, like then Senate-candidates Barack Obama and Michael Bennet, and then Mayor Cory Booker, who believed a better future was possible for every child—especially for those who have historically been poorly served by our nation’s education system. DFER quickly positioned itself as a linchpin of the education reform movement, building an ecosystem for change from the U.S. Department of Education to city halls and school boards. At the organization’s first pre-Convention gathering in Summer 2008, DFER drew a crowd of leaders who were ready to embrace a new vision for education, including party stalwarts Rep. James Clyburn, then Gov. Ray Romer, and Mayors Cooker Booker, Adrian Fenty and Michael Nutter who were leading bold changes in their cities.
Even before President Obama claimed victory, DFER had already prepared a transition memo outlining not only policy suggestions, but the names of venerable leaders committed to reforming public education. Many of those individuals—from Arne Duncan, who became Secretary of Education, on down—did indeed play key roles in the Administration.
In its first few years of existence, DFER invested $17 million dollars in political and policy advocacy
, and, working closely with the Obama Administration, encouraged states to pass more education reform legislation in eight months than in the prior eight years. This included Race to The Top which, while not a perfect policy, was one of the most ambitious plans to improve public education. It prompted the busting of charter caps in states across the country and sparked improvements in state assessment systems that remain today. As a champion for educational equity, President Obama led investments in the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), established by former President Bill Clinton, to fund the replication and expansion of high-quality public charter schools so that more students could have access to high-quality public-school choice. Over 500,000 students have been able to attend high-performing charter schools under CSP grants awarded since 2010.
During the past decade, DFER has built upon these early successes to elect and support hundreds of education reform champions who are investing in public education and embracing innovative policies that will lead to much-needed change for students of color and children from low-income families.
Today, DFER works closely with more than 180 Democratic champions at the federal, state, and local levels who are on the front lines advancing bold, evidence-based education policies from pre-K through higher education. Learn more about the policies DFER supports here.