At some point in the near future, Chance the Rapper will meet with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner to discuss funding Chicago’s public schools. (They were supposed to meet today, but the meeting got canceled because of the tornadoes in central Illinois.)
The idea for the get-together came about after Rauner tweeted to congratulate Chance for winning three Grammys. In response, Chance requested a meeting with the governor.
It’s a rare opportunity—one that I’m hoping will give Chance a, well, chance to really press the governor on all the ways he’s contributed to the CPS funding mess.
So as a civic service, I’d like to offer some advice to help Chance get through all the BS Rauner is about to throw his way.
Let’s start with the Chicago Public Schools. They’re broker than usual and looking to chop 20 days from the school-year, including 13 days of instruction, in part because Rauner vetoed a $215 million appropriation CPS had been expecting.
Rauner says he won’t send that money to CPS until Mayor Rahm and his school aides sign on to pension “reform”—a claim he’s undoubtedly going to make to Chance. As he makes it pretty much wherever he goes.
So here’s my first piece of advice for Chance: Never believe anything an Illinois politician—particularly a Republican—says about reform.
Generally, reform means taking money from someone and giving it to someone else. In this case, Rauner wants to take money the state and city owes to retired teachers, cops, firefighters, and so forth—the people who’re the backbone of so many working-class neighborhoods—so he won’t have to raise taxes on rich people.
The state supreme court has twice ruled that such pension cuts are unconstitutional. So Rauner’s effectively holding the schoolchildren of Chicago hostage while he demands that Rahm and CPS do something they can’t do.
I know I’ve pointed this out before. But that hasn’t stopped Rauner from insisting on his preposterous demands.
That’s my second piece of advice for Chance: Call Rauner on his BS.
Rauner will probably also try to convince Chance that he has nothing to do with CPS’s pending bankruptcy. He’ll say it’s the result of bad decisions made by elected officials who came before him.
Here I must confess he has a point—there have been many bad decisions over the years.
In particular, thanks to a law passed in 1995, Mayor Daley was free to take the money he should have spent on teacher pension obligations and spend it on other things—some of which were worthwhile, like building new schools, and some of which were not.
But I’ll stay away from a discourse on the city’s TIF program.
The point is that by overlooking the pension obligations, Daley (and Rahm, for that matter) was essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul.
But it’s not as though Rauner’s blameless for this mess. All those years that Daley drove us toward bankruptcy, Rauner was part of the great chorus of corporate chieftains and civic leaders hailing the mayor as a fiduciary wizard who had magically found new ways to pay the bills.
And now he wants a bunch of retired civil servants to take the hit for the profligacy he endorsed. All in the name of “reform,” of course.
So third piece of advice, Chance? Get the governor to own up to his own role in this mess.
Wait, there’s more. Another reason our schools are broke is because of the rise of charter schools. Under the guise of helping low-income kids get a better education, Daley and Mayor Rahm have been adding more charter schools to the system even as funding has failed to keep pace.
Rauner’s a big proponent of charters—he even got one named after him. This trend of creating new charters doesn’t seem to be ending. Wednesday’s Sun-Times brings news that “17 charter school operators” in Chicago “have given notice they’d like to open 20 new campuses.”
This is fiscal madness, of course.
So my final piece of advice is really a question: How’s the city supposed to find the money to create new charters if it doesn’t have enough money to fund the schools that already exist?
I’d could go on and on about this stuff—property tax debate, anyone? But that’s enough for now.
Good luck, Chance. If you can convince Rauner to fork over the $215 million, you deserve a Nobel Peace Prize to go with your Grammys.