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- Chicago hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper has become the city’s biggest champion for public schools. He’s raised millions of dollars to help schools escape their funding crises. The efforts cut across the federal government’s push to make public schools compete with private and charter schools.
Chance the Rapper, the Chicago-based hip-hop artist whose 2016 mixtape “Coloring Book” earned him three Grammy wins, is also making waves in another realm: public education.
Over the last year, Chance has met with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to discuss funding for Chicago public schools (CPS), donated $1 million to help CPS, raised $2.2 million in grant money for CPS, and, most recently, he announced Chicago will host an awards show in 2018, the Twilight Awards, for “teachers, parents, principals, and students that convey leadership.”
During the ceremony announcing his $2.2 million grant program, Chance told reporters, “Funding education is the most important investment a community can make.”
The rapper’s crusade to keep public schools, especially the cash-strapped CPS, relevant in the mainstream goes against much of what the Trump administration has said lies ahead for public schools in the US. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a fierce advocate for parents having school choice, believing that public schools should compete for parents’ attention alongside private, charter, and other specialty schools.
Critics of DeVos’ plans have said, as Chance did during his grant press conference, that education is an investment a community makes. It’s fundamentally different from deciding between cell phone plans, hailing an Uber over a taxi, and other free-market choices.
The consequence of making education more like cell phones plans and taxi services, critics allege, is that it strips the most disadvantaged students of their only reliable means to earn an education. At the same time, it uplifts kids whose parents can afford spending time and money to go someplace else.
Chance’s efforts to revive the very schools he grew up in reflect a commitment to the old ways of helping kids succeed – namely, by putting teachers and parents in a position to succeed.
For years now, many CPS teachers have had to buy their own school supplies or ask parents to supply their own due to budget cuts. In July, for example, CPS officials said they were cutting $46 million in public school funding after Illinois Gov. Rauner vetoed a $215 million funding bill in December 2016.
One way Chance has been trying to breathe new life into CPS is by making its needs more visible. Earlier this month, he manned the grill and cash registers at a local restaurant to raise money for CPS. All proceeds went to SocialWorks, Chance’s nonprofit focused on empowering Chicago youth.
A few days later, clad in a black turtleneck and blue jeans – an homage to Apple cofounder Steve Jobs – Chance held the first SocialWorks Summit on September 1. He addressed a roomful of teachers, principals, and parents about the problems facing CPS and what SocialWorks is doing to make things betters for Chicago’s students, such as handing out 30,000 supply-filled backpacks to kids during the recent Bud Billiken parade.
He concluded the presentation with “Oh, and one more thing” – another homage to Jobs – before announcing the Twilight Awards and revealing it would be hosted by “Late Late Show” host James Corden. It was the strongest indication yet that public schools aren’t disposable in Chance the Rapper’s Chicago.