Chance The Rapper To Donate $1 Million To CPS | WBEZ
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Chance The Rapper To Donate $1 Million To CPS

Updated at 5 p.m.

Chance the Rapper pledged $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools on Monday, saying he was “frustrated and disappointed” by what he called the governor’s “inaction” on a funding fix for the Chicago school system.

“That won’t stop me from doing all I can to support Chicago’s most valuable resource, its children,” Chance said Monday at Westcott Elementary School.

The South Side school is a few blocks from where the Grammy-winning rapper grew up.

Born Chancellor Bennett, the CPS graduate said he will donate $10,000 to 10 different schools, including Westcott, for arts and enrichment programming. Chance urged other celebrities and corporations to pitch in, noting that he received a text from fellow Chicago recording artist Common earlier Monday. 

His announcement came after a plan was floated earlier in the day by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office to supply the Chicago school system with a cash infusion. The district wants $215 million from the state to fill its mid-year budget hole. The governor vetoed a bill in December that would have provided help make a teacher pension payment.

Rauner said that money was contingent on the passage of a larger state pension reform bill, which hasn’t happened. Rauner argued that CPS’ current fiscal woes are due to what he has called “decades of financial mismanagement.”

In a statement, Rauner’s office noted the governor and his family foundation have donated $7 million to CPS over the last 20 years.

“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.”

But Chance wasn’t willing to let Rauner off the hook, accusing Rauner -- in language similar to that used by CPS officials and the mayor -- of “breaking his promise” by vetoing the money for CPS.

“Our kids should not be held hostage because political positioning,” Chance said during a news conference in the school library. 

“Governor Rauner, do your job,” he added.

Chance met with the governor on Friday to discuss education funding, specifically for the city’s schools. Bennett is the son of Ken Bennett, a former aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and now a senior advisor with the city’s tourism bureau.

The plan floated by Rauner’s office earlier in the day includes two potential legislative fixes that would give Chicago $215 million. It was leaked to the media hours before Chance’s press conference. District officials have threatened to end the school year 13 days early if the state or the courts don’t provide financial relief. A lawsuit by CPS against the state is also pending, with a judge agreeing on Friday to an aggressive hearing schedule. 

In the memo leaked Monday, Michael Mahoney, Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, outlined two specific solutions to Rauner Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg. 

The first option is to pass legislation in Springfield to allow Chicago to release $215 million in tax increment financing district funds. These are special districts around the city where city property values are frozen for up to 23 years. Any growth goes into a fund for economic development. The city in each of the last several years has released surplus TIF funds to CPS, but Rauner’s request goes beyond that annual surplus amount.

The Chicago Teachers Union called on Rauner to come up with a lasting, long-term solution. CTU Political and Legislative Director Stacy Davis Gates said the union has supported the TIF idea because of inaction in Springfield.

“The governor could right now figure out how to grab a revenue stream and fully fund a more equitable funding school funding for all schools in Illinois, which is kind of his job,” Davis Gates said.

The governor’s office also recommended that the city revise its TIF policy so that growth in property taxes for schools would no longer be frozen in TIF districts. 

Mahoney’s second idea is to break off the pension piece of a “grand bargain” budget package that recently fell apart in the Illinois Senate. He suggested amending the bill to include the city’s request to pick up the normal costs of teacher pensions and try to get it passed immediately as part of a larger stand-alone pension reform. 

That move would release $215 million to CPS, closing the current budget gap and taking off the table the prospect of ending the school year

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, the architect of the pension bill that Rauner’s office proposes could be a stand-alone bill, said this back-and-forth by Rauner is why the Senate opted to work independently on a budget and pension solution.

"We've split this out twice and Governor Rauner vetoed it both times, saying it had to be tied to be part of a comprehensive solution,” spokesman John Patterson said in an emailed statement. “Now we tie it to a comprehensive plan and he kills the deal and says it should stand alone. I think you can see why the Senate decided to try to negotiate its own solution and not negotiate with the governor."

The move with the pension bill, if successful, could play into the legal proceedings on a lawsuit filed last month by Chicago Public Schools. CPS accused Rauner and the state of discriminating against Chicago’s minority students in the way schools are funded, especially around teacher pension funding. CPS is the only school district in Illinois that must pick up nearly the entire cost for its teachers’ pensions.

Attorneys for the state said they plan to file a motion to dismiss the suit. Their motion is due by March 24.

City spokesman Adam Collins called Chance the Rapper’s donation “an incredibly generous contribution to the education of Chicago's children.” He also quickly rejected the ideas that came from Rauner’s office earlier Monday, calling them “no solution at all.” 

“(Rauner’s) 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.

The school district echoed that call. 

“Yet again, Governor 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,” CPSW spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “Chicago residents stepped up and are paying $342 million more in taxes this year alone to support schools, and it’s past time for the state of Illinois to end the racial discrimination that is creating a separate and unequal funding system.”


Rauner administration memo on closing CPS' $215 million budget deficit by Chicago Public Media on Scribd

Becky Vevea covers education for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZEducation.

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