Chance the Rapper gives $1 million to Chicago school system

BY MONIQUE GARCIA
AND JUAN PEREZ JR.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE/TNS

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Hours after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner offered two options to provide $215 million to help the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, Chance the Rapper put up $1 million to support arts programming in the district.

Students hold up a check for $1 million dollars from Chance the Rapper, right, who holds a press conference at Westcott Elementary School in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood on March 6.
(ZBIGNIEW BZDAK/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/TNS)

The rapper called his donation a “call to action” and asked for matching contributions from the city’s business community. While promising via Twitter to present a plan for the school system, Chance at his South Side news conference said it wasn’t his job to propose policy.

Instead, he still leveled a series of criticisms against the Republican governor following a meeting with Rauner last week the rapper described as “unsuccessful.”

Quiet celebration
“Gov. Rauner can use his executive power to help get Chicago’s children the resources they need to fulfill their God-given right to learn,” the musician said. “Gov. Rauner still won’t commit to give Chicago’s kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums.”

Both of the paths offered by Rauner’s office on Monday require action from lawmakers at a time when the governor’s spent nearly two years deadlocked with Democrats who control the General Assembly.

School officials have quietly celebrated Chance’s use of his celebrity status to discuss the district’s financial plight, with help from savvy social media posts that have rocketed across the Internet.

Rapper and activist
Born Chancelor Bennett, the rapper has a history of criticizing government and speaking out against politicians, even Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom his father worked for at City Hall.

Chance said the governor pulled back on an “important commitment” to ease the district’s enormous pension burden with $215 million in assistance.

“Gov. Rauner broke his promise to Chicago children a few months ago as a result of an admitted emotional reaction,” Chance said. “Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positioning.

“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.

$10,000 for school
Chance the Rapper’s news conference Monday was at the Westcott Elementary School, a highly rated campus in the West Chatham neighborhood that educates students who are almost exclusively Black and poor. In addition to his $1 million donation, Chance donated $10,000 to Westcott.

Westcott’s population of roughly 400 students was set to lose $96,840 of its funding this year, according to the school system, as part of a $46 million budget freeze that hit hundreds of buildings but landed hard on schools with mostly poor and minority students.

Chicago Public Schools reversed course last month and widened its year-end budget gap by refunding some $15 million of that money.

That still means Westcott stands to lose about $75,000, according to the district.

Drop in programs
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 and professional development.

“I don’t have a lot of nickel and dime kind of people working,” Dockery said. “They love the children.”

Overall, slightly more than a third of the students who could have attended traditional elementary and high schools in Westcott’s CPS network actually did so.

Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne contributed to this report.

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