Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) was propelled by a simple but powerful idea: the very people for whom school reform is intended can and should be the architects of their own reform agendas.


CPER prepared the following four reports as it prepared to sunset, in order to share the Fund’s grantmaking model and legacy of impact, and to strengthen understanding of how grantmakers can effectively support social movements to strengthen opportunity and justice.

Download Report: Greater Power, Lasting Impact: Effective Grantmaker Strategies from the Communities for Public Education Reform Fund (CPER). This report describes CPER’s grantmaking strategies and showcases impacts achieved in building communities, strengthening civic leadership and achieving policy change. While grounded in educational justice work, this report sheds light more broadly on how grantmakers can effectively support social movements to strengthen opportunity and justice.

Download Report: Education Policy Impacts 2007-2014. This report summarizes selected wins across CPER’s six investment sites and explains in lay-person language what each reform means for advancing educational equity and excellence.

Download Report: Strengthening Collaboration to Build Social Movements: Ten Lessons from the Communities for Public Education Reform Fund (CPER). This report explores effective grantmaker strategies to nurture collaboration between field advocates and allies in order to advance social change, grounded in CPER’s experience of working with local groups and national coalitions over eight years.

Download Report: Building Capacity to Sustain Social Movements. Drawing on experiences gained through CPER’s national capacity building work, this report shares lessons about effective grantmaker strategies to build organization and field-wide capacity, focusing particularly on community organizing and advocacy organizations.

Letter from the Director

Students and families in low-income communities of color have a critical role to play in ensuring that all students have access to high-quality public education.

Students and families know their own needs and see first-hand the inequities in schools. Community organizing groups can help them get a seat at the decision-making table and develop workable solutions, building on community assets that are vital to addressing the cultural and political dimensions of reform. These grassroots groups are essential to creating the public accountability and will needed to catalyze educational reforms and ensure they stick. They can be the antidote to the ever-shifting political conditions and leadership turnover that plague reform efforts. At the same time, they help community members develop leadership and a grassroots base, building individual civic capacity and community power that strengthens our democratic infrastructure for the long term.

In 2007, the national donor collaborative Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) was founded by funders active in Grantmakers for Education’s Working Group on Education Organizing, in partnership with NEO Philanthropy (then Public Interest Projects). CPER’s goal was to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income students of color by investing in community-driven reforms led by grassroots organizing groups. Conceived to run for a minimum of three years, the Fund’s lifespan eventually stretched to last eight years (2007-2014) because of the recognized power of its supported work.

What did we accomplish in our eight years of working together? CPER engaged a highly diverse set of 76 local and national foundation members, raising close to $34 million and investing nationally in 140 community groups and advocacy allies in national coalitions and in six target sites of varying scale (California, Chicago, Colorado, Mississippi, New Jersey and Philadelphia). These groups, in turn, played a key role in achieving over 90 policy wins at the school, district, state and federal level. These impressive policy achievements were accomplished through groups building:

  • a base of support among communities united in advancing reforms that improve and expand students’ educational opportunities;
  • heightened understanding, leadership and civic skills among those engaged, as well as more active participatory processes within their respective communities;
  • stronger strategic relationships among community groups, advocacy partners and critical allies like teachers unions, education scholars and grantmakers;
  • a sense of collectivity among diverse communities across the country, which allows these stakeholders to construct a shared narrative about national education challenges and the imperative for change;
  • greater public understanding of equitable access to high-quality public education as a civil right.

These accomplishments are all the more impressive when considering that over the period of CPER’s operation, the preponderance of public and private education dollars supported a vision of education reform largely at odds with CPER’s equity-focused agenda. As noted by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in their 2013 report, “Smashing Silos in Philanthropy: Multi-Issue Advocacy and Organizing for Real Results,” “Since the recession began in 2008, non-profits have experienced shrinking budgets, government cuts and greater demand for services. Grassroots organizations have been particularly hard hit.” Furthermore, social justice grantmaking “comprised [just] 12 percent of the grant dollars of the nation’s largest foundations in 2011,” and the “median funder provides just 2 percent of [its] grant dollars for social justice grantmaking.”

In this context, it is not surprising that over time, CPER’s commitment to a community-led agenda for educational justice presented investment challenges to some of the Fund’s member donors. That said, many CPER funders remain committed to lifting up the voices of parents and youth advancing a community-driven agenda. Local funding tables in former CPER investment sites are exploring new collaborative configurations. Several national donors continue to support groups directly and are joining like-minded funding collaboratives, such as NEO Philanthropy’s Just and Fair Schools Fund. Aware of the increasing tendency in philanthropy to create issue “silos,” these donors also recognize the interdependence of discrete reforms and justice issues to realize systemic educational change.

Vital work continues, with new alliances across regions poised to move forward. For both groups on the ground and the philanthropic community, the opportunity – and the challenge – is to build on this growing momentum, living up to the promise of democracy by ensuring that all youth secure their right to high-quality public education.

Melinda Fine, Ed.D., Vice President, NEO Philanthropy and Former Director of Communities for Public Education Reform

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