Chance the Rapper Donates $1M to Chicago Public Schools, Challenges Governor to 'Do Your Job'
By Juan Perez Jr. and Monique Garcia
Hours after Gov. Bruce Rauner offered two options to provide $215 million to Chicago Public Schools, Chance the Rapper cut the district a $1 million check that the Grammy-winning musician described as a "call to action" for the city's business and philanthropic community.
Chance was critical of the Republican governor's efforts to fix the city's schools during a news conference in West Chatham on the South Side, not far from the musician's old neighborhood.
"Gov. Rauner still won't commit to give Chicago's kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums," Chance told students and reporters at Westcott Elementary School. "Gov. Rauner, do your job."
Chance's comments quickly spread among his millions of social media followers and brought a dash of celebrity to a long-running fight over education funding. But they did little to resolve differences between politicians and school officials over how to dig the district out of a budget hole that could bring an early end to the school year for some 400,000 students.
The rapper had promised via Twitter to present a plan for CPS. But at an afternoon news conference, Chance said it wasn't his job to propose policy and instead promoted a fundraising campaign while urging Rauner to act.
"Gov. Rauner can use his executive power to give Chicago's children the resources they need to fulfill their God-given right to learn," the artist said.
The $1 million donation, which Chance presented in a novelty-sized check, will come from ticket sales from an upcoming tour and will go to CPS' fundraising arm. The musician also announced a series of $10,000 donations to 10 individual city schools.
Getting CPS the $215 million it had banked on to help balance this year's budget will be more complicated. The two proposals pitched by Rauner's office Monday require action from lawmakers, but the governor has spent nearly two years deadlocked with Democrats who control the General Assembly.
One option includes passing legislation that would allow Mayor Rahm Emanuel to tap into the city's tax increment financing funds. The other once again ties the money to a larger overhaul of the state's pension retirement program.
Both proposals were rejected by city and CPS officials.
Rauner's office did not respond to specific criticisms from the hip-hop star, instead noting the governor and wife Diana have long supported CPS with donations of $7 million through either personal contributions or the Rauner Family Foundation in the last few decades. But it's not possible to dig CPS out of its financial hole through that kind of philanthropy, Rauner's office said.
"While the Rauners are passionate donors to our schools, individual contributions will never be enough to address the financial challenges facing CPS," said Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis. "It would be helpful if CPS officials came to Springfield and joined in serious, good-faith discussions about the long-term stability of all of our schools."
CPS officials have quietly welcomed Chance's recent use of his celebrity and a savvy social media strategy to highlight the district's financial plight. Born Chancelor Bennett, the musician has a history of criticizing government and speaking out against politicians including Emanuel. Chance's father has worked for Emanuel at City Hall.
The artist's comments on Monday at times resembled talking points used by Emanuel and school officials in their long-running battle with Rauner. The governor in December vetoed legislation that would've sent the district $215 million to ease its enormous pension burden.
"Gov. Rauner broke his promise to Chicago's children a few months ago as a result of an admitted emotional reaction, when he vetoed the $215 million in funding that Chicago schools were counting on to close out the school year," Chance said. "Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positioning."
Chance and Rauner met in Chicago on Friday to discuss CPS funding, a session the musician on Monday described as "unsuccessful."
The options presented by Rauner on Monday were both a response to public pressure from Chance and an opportunity to place the onus on CPS' financial ills elsewhere.
The TIF district idea mimics proposals promoted by the Chicago Teachers Union and makes coming up with the money the problem of state lawmakers, Emanuel and potentially aldermen. The pension idea, if executed, would get Rauner a long-sought item from his legislative and economic wish list while requiring Democrats who control the General Assembly to go against union allies who oppose the changes to the retirement system.
Michael Mahoney, Rauner's deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, wrote in a memo that "given the extraordinary mismanagement of both the city and CPS budgets, legislation could be enacted to authorize a one-time mayoral transfer of $215 million from Chicago TIF funds to CPS."
Mahoney said the city should revise its policy and allow TIF districts to collect dollars for education funding, saying the idea "represents a compromise that both attracts business investment and supports public schools."
Alternatively, the administration wants to tie broader statewide pension changes to the $215 million pension pick-up for CPS.
The school district, which has sued the state over its education funding system, quickly rejected the governor's plan.
"Yet again, Gov. Rauner is perpetuating a racially discriminatory state funding system and his so-called plan actually demands that Chicago students do more to get the same funding that every other student in the state of Illinois is entitled to receive -- a gross disparity that has no place in 2017," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.
Mayoral spokesman Adam Collins characterized Rauner's latest proposals as "no solution at all."
"His plan to fix the fact that Chicago taxpayers pay twice for teacher pensions is to have them pay three times instead," Collins said in a statement. "It's past time for the governor to step up, as Chicago's taxpayers already have, and end the state's separate and unequal funding for Chicago students."
Emanuel was in New York on Monday making an announcement about participants in this year's Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Monday's pension plan from the governor is one he first pushed last year, but ultimately vetoed after Democratic Senate President John Cullerton publicly suggested there had never been a deal linking the $215 million in CPS aid to pension reform.
Rauner later acknowledged he was "a little emotional" when he vetoed the legislation not long after Cullerton made his comments. CPS moved to cut costs after the veto, furloughing employees and freezing school budgets.
Last week, the district announced it may make cuts to summer school and shorten the school year by about three weeks -- for a savings of about $96 million -- if the state or the courts don't intervene.
While Senate lawmakers are already weighing the pension changes, they are tied to a larger effort to pass sweeping legislation to end the state's unprecedented budget impasse. Those efforts hit a roadblock last week amid lagging support from Republicans, which Cullerton blamed on interference from Rauner.
Rauner's office now says the pension changes should be considered separately from the broader budget deal, a move that could be seen as him acknowledging those efforts won't go anywhere.
Schools waiting for an outcome include Westcott, the site of the musician's news conference and a highly rated campus in the West Chatham neighborhood that educates students who are almost exclusively black and poor. In addition to the $1 million donation, Chance presented a $10,000 check to Westcott.
"This isn't about politics, this isn't about posturing. This is about taking care of the kids. Everybody and their momma knows about what's going on in Chicago, it's constantly talked about. But we're about to enhance the conversation," the rapper said.
Westcott, with roughly 400 students, was set to lose $96,840 in funding this year, part of a $46 million budget freeze that hit hundreds of buildings but landed hard on schools with mostly poor and minority students.
CPS reversed course last month and refunded some $15 million of the frozen funds. Westcott now stands to lose about $75,000, according to the district.
Westcott's principal, Monique Dockery, said that cut means the school will have to drop a variety of after-school programs, math and reading tutoring as well as professional development.
"I don't have a lot of nickel and dime kind of people working," Dockery told reporters. "They love the children. That's first and foremost within Westcott, you have to love the children here in order to do the work that we do."
Chicago Tribune's John Byrne contributed.
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