When Chance the Rapper won the Grammy for best new artist last month, he thanked God “for all of Chicago.” The following afternoon, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, tweeted his congratulations to the rapper, saying the state was “proud that you’re one of our own.”
Within minutes, the rapper responded via Twitter: “Thank you Governor, I would love to have meeting with you this week if possible.”
The back and forth tweets launched the rapper into a highly publicized role in the political fight over Chicago Public Schools’ funding crisis. The district — the nation’s third largest — is facing a budget hole so deep that it could bring an early end to the school year for some 400,000 students. Illinois has gone two years without a budget, the longest such stalemate of any state in nearly a century.
Chance met with the governor Friday but emerged from the meeting visibly frustrated and said he was “flustered.” He spoke with the governor by phone over the weekend but called the talks “unsuccessful,” saying the governor offered vague responses to his questions.
But he tweeted out that he had a plan for Monday. And he did.
He showed up at Westcott Elementary School, three blocks from where he grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and announced at a news conference that he would donate $1 million to Chicago Public Schools using money from ticket sales for his upcoming tour.
“Governor Rauner still won’t commit to giving Chicago’s kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums,” the rapper said in the news conference, broadcast on Periscope. “Our kids should not be held hostage because of political position.”
Rauner’s office did not respond directly to Chance’s criticism but instead highlighted Rauner’s history, as a wealthy philanthropist, of giving to Chicago’s public schools.
“While the Rauners are passionate donors to our schools, individual contributions will never be enough to address the financial challenges facing CPS,” Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement. “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.”
The rapper gave a “call to action” to local and national corporations and individuals to also invest in the district. He added that for every $100,000 raised, Social Works Chicago — which Chance co-founded — will donate $10,000 directly to a specific public school in Chicago.
The first $10,000 check would go to Westcott Elementary, a highly rated school in the West Chatham neighborhood that educates students who are mostly black and poor, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Michelle Obama tweeted in response to the news of the donation, calling Chance “an example of the power of arts education.”
Thanks @chancetherapper for giving back to the Chicago community, which gave us so much. You are an example of the power of arts education.
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) March 6, 2017
The governor vetoed legislation in December that would have sent the district $215 million to ease its massive pension burden, prompting the district to cut costs, furlough employees and freeze school budgets.
Just hours before Chance’s donation announcement, Rauner offered two options to provide the $215 million to Chicago Public Schools, which would require action from lawmakers, the majority of whom are Democrats.
One option includes passing legislation that would allow Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to tap into the city’s tax increment financing funds, meant to subsidize economic development in poor areas. The other ties the money to a larger overhaul of the state’s pension retirement program. Both proposals were rejected by city and CPS officials.
When asked about the two proposed plans, Chance responded by saying he wasn’t a politician.
“It’s not my job to propose any policy or be behind anything but the kids,” said Chance, whose birth name is Chancelor Johnathan Bennett.
“This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about posturing. This is about taking care of the kids,” Chance said. “Everybody and their mama knows what’s going on in Chicago. We’re about to enhance the conversation on supporting and funding the education of the kids in Chicago.”
Last week, the district announced it may make cuts to summer school and shorten the school year by about three weeks to save about $96 million — if the state or the courts don’t intervene. In addition, Chicago Public Schools filed a lawsuit last month against Rauner and the Illinois Board of Education, alleging inadequate and unequal funding.
The state, the lawsuit says, treats students in Chicago’s public schools, “who are predominantly African American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the State’s education funding school bus.”
Chance, who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, has a history of speaking out against politicians. His father, Ken Williams-Bennett, was deputy chief of staff to Chicago’s mayor and once worked for Barack Obama when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois.
Despite this history, Chance said Monday his success at the Grammy Awards was what he needed, what he “traded in” to have his first meeting with the governor.
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