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Hot List 2012: The Funky Bunch

The 2012 elections promise to be monumentally important if education reformers hope to advance the progress we have made in recent years. Our top priority must be reelecting President Obama; DFER’s manifesto on the importance of the presidential election is available by clicking here.

But other federal, state, and local elections will be critical as well. DFER’s Hot List features our top electoral priorities for 2012. Election Day is November 6th, so these candidates need your support today!

It’s easy to support as many Hot List candidates as you wish! All but seven accept contributions directly via DFER’s Hot List contribution page. CLICK HERE to split a contribution between those candidates in just seconds.

And don't forget about the others! CLICK HERE and support them by visiting the Hot List Annex page.

You can jump to your favorite section of the Hot List with the following links:

Federal Candidates
State Candidates
School Board Candidates

You can also download a PDF version of DFER's Hot List by CLICKING HERE.


Heather Beaven

Heather Beaven is running for the U.S. House in Florida’s new 6th Congressional District. She is a former naval cryptologist and the current CEO of the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, which serves young Floridians at the intersection of education and workforce development.

Because of her extensive work with underserved Florida communities, Heather is acutely aware of the ways in which students are unprepared to enter the workforce upon completing school. Heather understands the questions she will face during this campaign - questions of economic development and job creation - principally in the context of reforming education.

If Heather’s name sounds familiar to you, it may be because she was also part of our Hot List in 2010, when she ran an unsuccessful campaign against a Republican incumbent. Unlike in 2010, this is now an open-seat race. Heather won her primary with 81% of the vote, and she collected 5,000 more votes in the process than her new Republican opponent did in his own bruising primary. He’s a strong opponent, though, so we still expect this race to be an uphill battle.

If there was ever a moment for a young, charismatic, massively talented new Member of Congress, this is it.

“Heather has an uncommon understanding of the finer points of education and workforce development policy, and she has a track record of making a difference on the ground. Heather will be a great representative for the people of Florida.” -Doug Tuthill, Florida State Director


U.S. Representative André Carson (IN-7)

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. He spent his early school years in private Catholic school before moving on to Indianapolis Public Schools. 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 most of Indianapolis and Marion County (the most urban part of a state that is dramatically reshaping its public schools), Carson’s endorsement of progressive education policies is absolutely 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. 

“I can’t think of a more deserving federal elected official than André Carson - he is a great guy!” - Larry Grau, Indiana State Director


U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA)

Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate.

With nearly 20 years of senate experience, Feinstein has amassed tremendous political influence and knowledge of policymaking. Because she cuts such a serious political profile, it’s easy to forget that she has been a consistent voice for education reform in the Senate.

From her powerful position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Feinstein is deeply involved in determining funding for some of the most impactful federal education programs - and she is unafraid to take bold votes.

Earlier this year, Senator Mary Landrieu offered an amendment before the appropriations committee that would have increased competitive federal grants for high-performing charter schools. Among Democrats, only Feinstein and Senator Durbin joined Landrieu in support, and the amendment was voted down.

A political trailblazer who has been famously moderate and meticulous throughout the years, Feinstein has earned our deep admiration and she deserves our support.

“You can’t twist Senator Feinstein’s arm and, lucky for us, you never have to. It’s rare to have someone in such a position of power be such a consistent supporter.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy


U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)

Rubén Hinojosa is 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. 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.

“Rubén Hinojosa is a conspicuous and indispensible voice for high quality public schools on the House Committee on Education and Labor.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy


New York Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries (AD-57)

Hakeem Jeffries is running for the U.S. House in New York’s 8th Congressional District. When he announced earlier this year that he would challenge Democratic Representative Ed Towns for the seat, Hakeem chased the 30-year incumbent into retirement.

Called “the Barack of Brooklyn” by the New York Observer, Hakeem is one of the true rising stars of New York politics. He has been a tireless supporter of increasing education funding and improving public schools. He’s a huge fan of the borough’s many excellent charter schools; he co-sponsored legislation to raise New York’s charter school cap. And he’s a heartfelt progressive on other issues as well, serving as a champion for affordable housing and a major opponent of the city’s stop-and-frisk policies.

Having pummeled Charles Barron, another well-known face in NY politics, by more than 40 points in the primary, Hakeem is now all but certain to win the seat. We have been huge fans of Hakeem for years, and hope you’ll support his efforts to bring his progressive agenda to Washington.

“Hakeem has helped to build consensus within the New York Assembly on a range of education issues. I am sure he’ll be even more effective at developing relationships with his peers in D.C.” - Joe Williams, Executive Director

Former Florida Senator Al Lawson (SD-6)

Former State Senator Al Lawson is running for U.S. House in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

Lawson has been a standard-bearer Florida’s education reform community for decades. Between the two legislative bodies, Lawson served North Florida for nearly 30 years, working his way up to Senate Minority Leader. He has been an outspoken and thoughtful supporter of accountability and parental choice throughout the evolution of Florida’s reform movement.

Lawson was term-limited out of the Senate in 2010 and he ran unsuccessfully for Congress against a conservative incumbent Democrat. Even after leaving office, he was a vocal supporter of efforts to create a parent trigger law in Florida.

Lawson is a talented campaigner and he’s well known in the district. The Blue Dog Democrat he challenged in 2010 was a seven-term incumbent - the guy spent $2.2 million and only barely edged out Lawson.

This year, Lawson is running against a first-term tea party Republican who’s completely out of touch. Lawson’s polling numbers are fantastic. His campaign is one of the DCCC’s Red-to-Blue selections, and Politico recently called the race one of the top five potential Democratic upsets in the U.S. House. He’s got a fantastic shot of winning back this seat.

Of course, once everyone realized the race was competitive, the national Republicans started coming after Lawson big time. And, because of Lawson’s steady support of accountability and parental choice, a lot of status quo forces are either sitting out this race or offering meager assistance. Senator Lawson needs the education reform community to show up in a big way.

“Senator Lawson has been fighting for years to empower parents. We’re thrilled he will bring the same determination to Washington, DC.” - Doug Tuthill, Florida State Director


U.S. Representative George Miller (CA-7)

Representative 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.

“Maybe I’m biased because I worked for him, but George Miller is the standard-bearer. No one has done more to positively impact federal education policy - literally no one.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy


U.S. Representative Chris Murphy (CT-5)

Representative Chris Murphy is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

A steady education reformer in the house, Chris would be an invaluable addition to the small reform coalition in the Senate. Chris has embraced evidence-based solutions without being partial to any one model; traditional district schools, charter schools, and magnet schools are all great if they work.

Fortunately, Chris is also a seriously impressive candidate. He won his first Connecticut House seat at age 25 by ousting a 14-year incumbent. In 2006, he ran for the U.S. House and beat the incumbent Republican by more than ten points.

Chris has been on our Hot List for more than a year. He’s under 40 years old, so electing him to the Senate could mean decades of Democratic ed reform leadership.

Chris easily vanquished his Democratic primary opponents, but he faces a battle in the general election. His opponent is wrestling executive and eccentric Linda McMahon, so Chris needs to raise enough money to run a very extensive campaign. McMahon proved how costly Connecticut can be, spending more than $50 million when she ran in 2010.

Connecticut promises to be a barn-burner - she’s already been running millions of dollars in ads attacking Chris this year. We need everyone to show up for Chris.

“Having one additional ed reform vote can be absolutely paramount in the senate - and Chris’ leadership can get you more than one vote.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy


U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL)

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate.

Nelson was among the first in the senate to take school accountability seriously and he still sincerely supports proper implementation of No Child Left Behind. More recently he has become an advocate of reforms like flexible teacher pay, replication of high performing charter schools, and extended learning time.

If civil discourse and bipartisanship have any future in the senate, Bill Nelson will be a cornerstone. His measured, moderate demeanor - which endeared him to his constituents - means that he will always be part of the development of new policy.

Although Nelson is beloved, he’s still a rare Democrat in a state dominated by Republicans. Campaigning in Florida is expensive, so he is a target of the Republican National Senatorial Committee. If that’s not enough of a reason to support him, Nelson’s success in 2012 is also critical to President Obama’s chances of winning Florida. This reelection effort is a deeply deserving one.

“Senator Nelson is a strong supporter of parental empowerment in K-12 education, and has been a great advocate for Floridians in Washington, DC. We need to keep him there.” - Doug Tuthill, Florida State Director


U.S. Representative Jared Polis (CO-2)

Representative 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.

Redistricting in Colorado has made Jared’s district a bit more challenging now than in recent years. He should still be fine but we can’t afford to take this one for granted.

“Jared’s first run for office - for Colorado Board of Education - says a lot about Jared’s priorities. It was not a glamour position. You only get into this if you care deeply about student success.” - Joe Williams, Executive Director


Brad Schneider

Brad Schneider is running for the U.S. House in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District. He’s a moderate, pragmatic Dem, who represents one of the country’s best opportunities to pick off an incumbent Republican.

Brad is a great example of why the messenger matters. He’s a consensus-builder - not a firebrand - and his careful messaging will do wonders on Capitol Hill.

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.

We supported another great candidate in this district in 2010, but he lost by a narrow margin to the current incumbent, Bob Dold (yes, Dold). The redistricted 10th has become more favorable to Democrats, but we all know that incumbency is a huge boon.

We’re confident that Brad has what it takes to win, but he needs all the help we can give in order to seal the deal.

“Brad’s approach to talking about education reform is incredibly valuable. It’s not about dividing people - it’s always about serving students. This puts him in good stead to win this race and drive change in Washington.” - Joe Williams, Executive Director


U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (VA-3)

Representative 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.

We are fully confident that Scott will be reelected to his eleventh congressional term - his district was made even safer in 2012. Turnout in this district (among the most heavily Democratic in Virginia) will, however, be absolutely critical to President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Even without the national implications, a consistent and prominent reformer like Bobby Scott undoubtedly merits our support.

“Having Representative Scott’s support for a bill really means something.” - Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy




Former California Assemblymember Joe Coto

Joe Coto is running for the open 15th District seat in the California Senate.

A former classroom social studies teacher in Oakland, Coto ultimately served as a superintendent in San Jose for more than a dozen years. Having observed the system from a variety of levels, he has an incredibly in-depth understanding of the practical implications of education policy.

While serving in the California Assembly, Coto sponsored dozens of education reform bills covering curriculum, funding, and accountability. He was also chair of the influential Latino Legislative Caucus until he was term limited out of the assembly in 2010.

Coto is a true believer - on the campaign trail, he always discusses solving economic issues in terms of fixing public education - but he has a challenging campaign ahead of him. Coto’s opponent in the general election is a current assemblymember whose district covers much of the 15th Senate District - and whose largest donor in 2010 was the California Teachers Association.

“Joe Coto was my ‘go to’ person in enacting tough education reform bills when he served in the California State Assembly. He is fearless in standing up on behalf of the needs of students. Now is our time to be fearless in standing up on his behalf.” Sen. Gloria Romero (Ret.), California State Director



Colorado Representative Millie Hamner (HD-56)

Millie Hamner is running for reelection to the Colorado House, this time in District 61.

Millie was elected last year to replace Christine Scanlan, another star reformer who was the prime house sponsor of Colorado’s landmark educator effectiveness bill, SB 191. (Scanlan left to serve as Governor Hickenlooper’s director of legislative affairs.)

But Millie is an education reform star in her own right. Before being selected to join the house and serve on the education committee, Millie was a superintendent in Summit, Colorado - and she was a teacher and administrator before that. She has already proven that she’s an up-and-coming leader. Just a few months ago, she stewarded Colorado’s contentious early literacy bill to passage through the house, as the act’s Democratic sponsor.

Millie’s historically Democratic house seat was redistricted, so the district is less safe for her than it was before. Her Republican opponent is well known, having run for the seat in prior elections. Meanwhile, a new entrant into the race - a former Rep. who left the Democratic Party a few years ago and is now on the ballot as an Independent - threatens to peel off Dems and independents from Millie’s reelection effort.

Millie is well positioned to be successful but we expect a street fight. We need to devote considerable resources to help protect this vulnerable incumbent who has boundless potential.

“Millie shines as Colorado’s new education reform rock star. Last session, she successfully negotiated with reluctant school districts the state’s literacy bill, fought hard for Colorado to join a national consortium, and supported key charter school legislation. We expect even more from her next year, especially if Democrats gain control of the House, as she’ll be the leader in her caucus on education issues.” - Moira Cullen, Colorado State Director


Colorado Senator Mary Hodge (SD-25)

Mary Hodge, a former Colorado Representative, is running for a reelection to the Colorado Senate in District 25.

A former elementary school teacher, Mary understands the educator experience - and she’s great at bridging divides and forging compromise. Since she was first elected to the house in 2000, and especially now that she’s in the senate, Mary has been a consistent supporter of Colorado’s historic education reform bills. She was, for example, one of a small number of Democrat sponsors for Colorado’s educator effectiveness bill, SB 191.

Winning countless awards for effective policymaking isn’t enough though. Mary will have a serious reelection battle. In 2008 - a great year for Colorado Dems - she won her seat by less than ten percent. Her Republican opponent has framed his campaign as a race against Democrats, rather than taking on Mary directly.

With sufficient resources, we hope this quiet leader will be reelected to the senate.

“Senator Hodge has been a steady, common sense leader on education reform who cuts right to the chase. When asked on her recent DFER CO questionnaire about how to improve Colorado’s low-performing schools, Mary plainly states, ‘make sure that there is a high quality principal hiring highly effective teachers who understand the mission of that school.’ Mary’s ability to work effectively on both sides of the aisle make her a critical ally of education reform.” - Moira Cullen, Colorado State Director


Crestina Martinez

Crestina Martinez is the Democratic nominee for the Colorado Senate in the 35th District.

She is a dynamic, young woman - the daughter of a cattle rancher - and a rising star in southern Colorado. She is a former San Luis Valley Person of the Year, Colorado Young Dem of the Year, Colorado Freshman Commissioner of the Year, and more. You get the idea.

The district has produced education reformers in the past - the current senator was a co-sponsor of SB 191. Although Crestina doesn’t have a formal record on education yet, Colorado’s education reform community has already begun working closely with her. We expect her to be on the right side of progressive education reform and to use her star power for years to come.

Crestina won the primary election by more than 25 points but we expect the general election to be much tougher. Although the district is 36% Hispanic, which should work to Crestina’s favor, it is also pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Crestina has proven herself to be a skilled campaigner. This race represents a rare opportunity to invest early in a highly talented rising star.

“We think Crestina has tremendous potential as a future education reform leader. As a young Hispanic leader from an impoverished, rural area, she will bring to the Legislature a unique perspective on the imperative need to improve student achievement and opportunities.” - Moira Cullen, Colorado State Director


Colorado Senator Linda Newell (SD-26)

Linda Newell is running for reelection in the 26th District seat of the Colorado Senate.

Linda is a longtime business consultant with an entrepreneurial streak. She has a compelling story as a single mother who has been on both sides of financial success. In keeping with that experience, she is an empathetic but highly pragmatic policymaker.

Since she was elected to the senate in 2008, Linda has been a quiet but consistent vote for Colorado’s education reform bills. Her sponsorship was crucial to the passage of Colorado’s landmark educator effectiveness bill, SB 191.

Protecting her in 2012 is no less crucial and we expect a hard reelection fight. Linda’s district in the suburbs south of Denver is an evenly split one - in 2008, when Linda was first elected, she beat her opponent by fewer than 200 votes. This year, her Republican opponent is one of the Colorado GOP’s favorite candidates - an early selection to their Trailblazers program.

Supporting Linda’s campaign will demonstrate that we don’t forget those who lead by example.

“Senator Newell was a vocal advocate on SB 191, bringing her human resources background to the debate. She is in the re-election fight of her life - Colorado will lose a key education reform champion if she is not victorious.” - Moira Cullen, Colorado State Director



Florida Representative Darren Soto (HD-49)

Representative Darren Soto is running a strong campaign for the newly created 14th District of the Florida Senate.

Darren was prominent in Hispanic politics long before his 2007 special election to the Florida House. In his initial meetings with his new constituents, the community’s hunger for high-quality educational options became clear to him. On the strength of those conversations, Darren has grown into an unwavering advocate of expanding school choice for Florida parents.

In the senate, Darren will have an even larger platform - he will represent more constituents in the strategically important communities around Orlando. 

This newly drawn, majority Hispanic district is perfect for Darren, and he always runs a well organized campaign. Although the district is a Democratic one, Darren still faces stiff opposition from a Republican personal injury lawyer. He will need considerable financial support to secure this critical race in November.

“Representative Soto has been one of the strongest advocates in the Florida House for ensuring all students have equal access to a quality education. We need his voice for equal opportunity in the Florida Senate.” Doug Tuthill, Florida State Director


Christian Mitchell

Christian Mitchell is the Democratic nominee for Illinois House in the 26th District.

A community organizer and University of Chicago grad, Christian is an incredibly promising young talent. He’s a close friend and protégé of Will Burns, the avid reformer who held the seat until February. Christian promises to be a forceful voice for education reform and the timing couldn’t be better. As Mayor Emanuel pushes an aggressive education agenda for Chicago, he will need all of the support he can get in the state house.

This district, which stretches through the South Side of Chicago, is heavily Democratic. Christian, having eked out a win in the primary, will be the next State Rep. In his new district, though, he’ll be the representative for the now-famous head of the Chicago Teachers Union, so you can bet that he’ll face challenges in future primaries.

For now, this is a terrific opportunity to help a talented reformer gain clout on his way to Springfield.

“Christian has been an advocate for better schools and quality educational options for years as a community organizer on the Southside of Chicago - walking in the footsteps of another famous education reformer in chief! He wants to make sure Chicago’s schools have a champion in Springfield that can defend the state’s current education reform efforts and move the needle for continued change.” -Rebeca Nieves Huffman, Illinois State Director


Silvana Tabares

Silvana Tabares is the Democratic nominee in the 21st Illinois House District.

Silvana is a former DFER Reformer of the Month, and for good reason. She is a supporter of high-performing charters and performance pay incentives. The daughter of a single mother who struggled to send her to catholic school, Silvana has an acute understanding of the value of parental choice.

Despite a smear campaign by the Chicago Teachers Union, which unfairly called her a “union buster,” Silvana won a tight race for the Democratic nomination - demonstrating in the process that the Hispanic community supports reform. This district is heavily Democratic, so she has really all but won the general.

Her district is also adjacent to that of the powerful Speaker of the Illinois House, so Silvana’s voice will be an unusually potent one. If she continues to fundraise successfully - one way she can demonstrate her popularity - Silvana promises to be an influential presence for years to come.

“Silvana is a tough candidate ready to lead the charge in the state legislature around quality school options. She won a hard fought primary, but is excited to work tirelessly to bring new supporters and advocates in her district to the side of education reform and quality schools for all kids." - Rebeca Nieves Huffman, Illinois State Director


Patricia Van Pelt Watkins

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins is the Democratic nominee for Illinois Senate in the 5th District. A former steelworker and union steward, Patricia eventually earned a Ph.D., and the value of her education is a guiding lesson.

Patricia has been working proactively on education reform issues for years. She founded and led a social justice organization called the Target Area Development Corp. Through the organization, she helped to craft a handful of education reform initiatives, including two aimed at addressing the lack of parent involvement in school reform efforts and creating a pipeline of highly effective teachers of color. We are excited to see the kinds of challenges she will take on in Springfield.

Patricia ousted her primary opponent, a Democratic incumbent who had served since 1999, by a surprising margin.  She is unopposed in the general election. But supporting her campaign will help Patricia gain influence even before she arrives in the Illinois Senate.

“Patricia has led and developed parent advocates in the Illinois education reform community for years. Her transition to the political world as a State Senator will be a culmination of her life’s work to empower community advocates for change focused on stronger schools, great teachers, and quality educational options.” -Rebeca Nieves Huffman, Illinois State Director



Tim DeLaney

Tim DeLaney is running for the 30th District seat on the Indiana Senate.

Tim is a dynamic, young attorney who’s deeply invested in good schools. A pragmatist through and through, Tim is all about stamping out failure and rewarding success with autonomy.

Since Tim’s dad is a popular State Rep. - and a budding ed reformer in his own right - he knows good campaigning too. Tim is taking on a Republican in the state senate, who won the seat in a special election a few years back. Tim’s opponent is a Tea Party type whose interest in education policy is most definitely not pragmatic; he wrote a bill recently that would have pulled Indiana out of the Common Core.

Tim’s a strong candidate, with great local name recognition and knowledge of the district, so he’ll put up a strong fight. The district is a Republican one, so Tim has an uphill battle. But with the right support, we’re confident that Tim will put his innate ability to good use.

"Tim is certainly a rising star in the Democratic Party in Indiana, and is not only solid on ed reform, he is quickly showing an ability to be a reform leader even before we make him a State Senator."  Larry Grau, Indiana State Director


Indiana Representative Mary Ann Sullivan (HD-97)

Mary Ann Sullivan is running for the Indiana Senate in 36th District.

As a State Rep., Mary Ann has always been DFER’s hero in Indiana - an avid booster of high quality district and charter schools. She has been willing to speak out on the need for real accountability, even though the Democratic leadership in the house has scorned her for it. So, earlier this year, Mary Ann began a campaign for state senate instead.

The Indiana State Teachers Association then pulled a really baffling move. They decided to send Mary Ann a message by endorsing her conservative Republican opponent, even though he has nothing in common with the union. Her opponent even voted against full-day kindergarten, but the ISTA would rather put their money behind him than someone they can’t control.

With the ISTA throwing their weight behind her opponent, and in a Republican leaning district, the Republican Party thought this would be a slam-dunk. But the race has become so tight - with some polls showing Mary Ann now in the lead - that Republicans have started to direct money to the race. Mary Ann has knocked on doors and contacted over 13,000 voters in the district since mid-summer, and is planning to launch TV ads if she can raise the necessary funds. She needs the support of the education reform community even more.

"Mary Ann has been a ed reform warrior in the Indiana General Assembly from the minute she stepped in the State House, and continues to be the standard-bearer for what it means to be a reformer. There is not enough time in the day for me to tell you all the reasons why the education reform community should be supporting Mary Ann."  - Larry Grau, Indiana State Director


Massachusetts State Senator Barry Finegold

Barry Finegold is running for reelection to the Massachusetts State Senate in the Second Essex and Middlesex District.

Finegold joined the state senate last year after a distinguished tenure in the house, beginning in 1997. He’s a member of the education committee with a reputation for pragmatism and bipartisanship.

In 2010, Finegold helped to advance Massachusetts’ achievement gap bill, which expanded public charter school access (both traditional charters and new in-district Innovation Schools) and created powerful mechanisms for school turnaround. Today, he’s a critical supporter of the state receivership and turnaround of the Lawrence Public Schools - historic changes that are taking place in his senate district.

The Massachusetts legislature is deeply Democratic, so Finegold is one of just a small handful of Democrats who faces Republican opposition this year. His opponent is a State Rep. who was redistricted out of his seat. And the state GOP is targeting him, naming Finegold as one of the three incumbent senators they’re most focused on.

Finegold needs the education community’s support in order to protect this critical seat.

“Significant city-level change is not possible without leadership at the state level. The reelection of Senator Finegold is vital to rejuvenating Lawrence Public Schools." -Liam Kerr, Massachusetts State Director



Sylvester Cann

Sylvester Cann is running for the Washington State House in northeast Seattle’s 46th District.

Sylvester is precisely the kind of young, enthusiastic, engaged, civic-minded candidate ed reformers should be searching for at the state and national level. He has a long and bright political future ahead.

Sylvester was the first in his family to go to college, earning a mathematics degree from the University of Washington. If elected, Sylvester will be one of two African-Americans serving in the 147-member Washington State Legislature.

Until last year, he was an aide to the late State Senator who represented the district with a new style of progressive, thoughtful leadership that Sylvester emulates. Today, Sylvester works for an organization that leads a coalition effort in South Seattle and South King County to improve education results for low-income students.

Sylvester’s opponent, who constantly derides charter schools as “privatization,” was appointed to this seat less than a year ago by the County Council. With the power of incumbency and the Democratic Party apparatus on his side, he is a formidable opponent. Sadly, Sylvester lost traditional labor-centric party support because of his focus on student achievement. 

Sylvester has the vision, the skills, and the temperament to be an incredibly effective legislator. He has been running a terrific campaign, but he has an uphill climb. Sylvester is more viable than primary results would suggest (he lost by 20 points in a low turnout election). Neither he, nor his opponent, has much name identification. In a district where voters elect people for 20 years and where we have a great young energetic reformer running against a long-time defender of the status quo, this race matters. Please help us muster the resources to send this very bright light to Olympia. 

"Sylvester is a rare candidate. With experience both working on the ground to improve schools and horse-trading at the Capitol, he has all the right tools to move the needle." Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director


Cyrus Habib

Cyrus Habib is running for an open Washington State House seat in the 48th legislative district (Seattle suburbs of east King County).

Cyrus is an inspiring presence who speaks with uncommon credibility about the transformative power of education. He’s a three-time cancer survivor who lost his vision when he was eight years old. He went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Today, he’s a successful technology attorney and community leader in his hometown of Bellevue, Washington. He’s also a disability advocate who was asked to testify before the U.S. Congress.

Cyrus talks a lot about education on the campaign trail - he is openly endorsing the charter school initiative that is also on the fall ballot. He will be an immediate leader in a state with far too few education reformers. Because he is from east King County, the moderate suburbs of Seattle, Cyrus’ positions will not sink him politically. In their endorsement of Cyrus, The Seattle Times’ main point was that “he exhibits a firm grasp of the urgent issues facing our state and supports critical reforms, including teacher evaluations based on student performance and restructuring public-employee benefits.”

The sky really is the limit for Cyrus. He won his primary by ten points. And, because the seat leans Democratic, we expect him to win in November. But he can't take anything for granted.

"Cyrus may well end up being a national education reform leader for decades to come."  Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director


Washington State Representative Eric Pettigrew (HD-37)

Eric Pettigrew is running for reelection to the Washington State House in the 37th legislative district (SE Seattle).

As the House Majority Caucus Leader, Eric is one of Washington’s highest ranking legislative leaders. And, in a state with a dearth of education reform leadership, he’s a real pioneer.

Eric’s district has five of the state’s lowest performing schools, and he feels a sense of urgency not shared by most of his legislative colleagues. Eric has been working with other education reformers to lift Washington's ban on public charter schools. After his Democratic colleagues killed his charter school bill in the last legislative session, he urged education reformers to put charter schools before the voters. And he bravely stepped up to be a spokesperson for Initiative 1240.

In Washington, safe elected officials generally send any surplus campaign donations to their caucus, but Eric is taking a different tack. He is sending surplus donations to Revising the Status Quo PAC.  Eric formed the RSQ PAC because of the acute need in Washington State to elect more “intrepid Democrats” who are independent thinkers.

Eric is not at risk of losing his seat. But, by supporting RSQ PAC, you will help elect other reform-minded Democrats and reinforce the message that the status quo is not good enough. 

"Eric Pettigrew is the real deal. His single-minded focus on improving educational outcomes for students is absolutely inspiring."  Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director



Caitlin Hannon

Caitlin Hannon is running for the open District 1 seat on the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Board of Commissioners.

IPS is basically synonymous with endemic breakdown. The system’s fiscal and student performance challenges are incredibly daunting. We’re at an inflection point - perhaps the best recent opportunity for Indy to take control of its own schools, before something finally gives.

Meanwhile, Caitlin is one of those bold, young talents who you cross your fingers will want to tackle these kinds of problems. Caitlin began working on education policy in New York City while she was still in college and, after college, she moved back to Indianapolis to teach English through Teach For America. She’s a rock solid reformer and an advisory committee member of DFER Indiana.

A few months ago, Caitlin declared her intent to win a seat on the IPS board where the incumbent has decided to retire. Any seat could swing the board and shake up an atrophied governing body.

She’s been working hard and attracting the right kind of attention from the establishment. She’s a featured candidate of LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity), the advocacy group associated with Teach For America.

It is crucial that we support the campaigns of young, talented candidates with classroom experience - candidates like Caitlin. It is important for young reformers to know that support is available if they take on such an important challenge.

In Caitlin’s case, we also need to support her campaign because she is very well positioned to win. She has proven herself a talented campaigner and now enjoys frontrunner status. Her victory could set the tone for pushing reforms in other districts throughout the state.

“Caitlin is the real deal when it comes to education reform. As a result of her experience in the classroom, when it comes to being a reformer, Caitlin doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk.” - Larry Grau, Indiana State Director


Bill Ponder

Bill Ponder is running for the District E seat on the San Diego Board of Education.

San Diego’s school district is the second largest, and perhaps the most dysfunctional, in the state. Its school board has had some personality conflicts in the past, and could benefit tremendously from the addition of a proven leader.

A product of San Diego public schools and former university VP, Bill Ponder will draw on decades of experience and training in creating systems to foster student success. He has experience in public schools, community colleges, and public universities. And he will bring a student-centric attitude and a serious focus on accountability to the board, administration, and staff.

You may remember that, a few months ago, voters in San Diego approved a municipal pension reform ballot measure. The city’s voters are clambering for change and, accordingly, a bipartisan coalition has emerged to elect Bill to the board.

Bill is one of two candidates for the only open board seat. The bad news is that his opponent, the San Diego Education Association’s pick for the seat, trounced him in the primary a few months ago. Granted, neither candidate campaigned much (because both were guaranteed spots on the ballot) but, in the face of union opposition, Bill still has an uphill climb. However, with sufficient resources, Bill could be part of a probable sea change election in San Diego.

“There’s only one thing to ponder here: how we get Bill Ponder elected in the second largest school district in CA - which has the strongest voice on education reform and transformation.  Bill represents a unique opportunity for education reformers to begin building a bipartisan coalition to balance the special interests that have pushed the district to the brink of bankruptcy.” Sen. Gloria Romero (Ret.), California State Director


Sarah Usdin

Sarah Usdin is running for the third district seat on the Orleans Parish School Board.

Sarah is a superstar of the Teach For America set. She was an early Teach For America corps member and TFA’s executive director in South Louisiana before becoming a partner at the New Teacher Project.

She went on to found New Schools for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the group’s CEO, she was absolutely instrumental in attracting some of the country’s best school operators to New Orleans and supporting them once they’re there. The successes we’ve seen simply would not have been possible without her leadership.

New Orleans schools are approaching an inflection point, and the Orleans Parish School Board is key. Sarah is running to oust an incumbent Republican, who opposes maintaining the strong governance model under which the Recovery School District has progressed.

Sarah will need a tremendous fundraising effort to unseat her opponent, and she’s already well on her way; we learned recently that she is outraising the rest of the field by a mile. With the continued support of the national education reform community, she has a great chance of winning this seat.

“Throughout her career, Sarah has been a pragmatic problem-solver with a laser focus on student success. This campaign is no different. We’re excited to see what she’ll do on the Orleans Parish School Board.” — Joe Williams, Executive Director