As I write this, it’s been less than a week since Chance the Rapper first demanded that Governor Rauner send more state aid to Chicago’s dead-broke public schools. I don’t want to say anything that might deter his mission, but it seems like Chance is looking to Rauner for something our governor doesn’t have—a conscience.
As a follow-up to last Friday’s meeting, Chance held a press conference Monday to announce his plan to donate more than $1 million to fund art programs in Chicago Public Schools.
Every little bit helps, and I commend Chance for his generosity. But unfortunately, his donation is only a drop in the bucket for a system that’s borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to pay its basic bills.
Rauner, of course, could take a giant step toward eradicating the problem by upping state aid to CPS, but he won’t. And to understand his intransigence, you need to know something about the difference between the two men at the center of this drama.
Chance was born and raised in Chicago. His father, Ken Bennett, was a political aide to Mayor Harold Washington and Barack Obama. (He also worked for Mayor Rahm, but hey, no one’s perfect.)
A public school graduate himself, Chance clearly appreciates the contributions of the teachers and principals who are the middle-class anchors of many south-side communities, including Chatham, where he grew up.
Chance also seems to realizes that if the schools go bankrupt, it would only cause more chaos and turmoil for low-income kids from high-crime areas. So, it’s like, duh, people—bankruptcy shouldn’t be an option.
Rauner doesn’t see it that way.
A Republican who grew up in wealthy north-suburban Deerfield, Rauner made his fortune running a private equity firm that managed pension funds and specialized in buying up companies for relatively cheap, then selling them for a profit.
From the start of his political career, Rauner’s made it clear that one of his primary objectives is annihilating the Chicago Teachers Union. And anything that helped him achieve that goal—including bankruptcy—was a means to an end.
In Rauner’s world, the CTU is the root of all that ails Chicago’s public schools—as though crime, segregation, and poverty had nothing to do with it.
And as Rauner sees it, sending more state aid to CPS is a waste. “Half of teachers are virtually illiterate,” he wrote in a 2011 e-mail to Mayor Emanuel’s aides. And “50% of principals are managerially incompetent.”
Clearly, he doesn’t appreciate those teachers who live in Chatham and elsewhere half as much as Chance does. Though his feelings haven’t stopped him from making millions managing their pension funds.
Over the last few years, Rauner’s also been a key contributor to the charter school movement, which funds nonunion schools that also receive public funding. In effect, by funding charters, Rauner’s undercutting the teachers’ union.
In appreciation for Rauner’s contributions, the local Noble network of charters named one of its schools after him.
So it’s beyond ironic that last week teachers from Noble announced they were starting a drive to organize a union.
Sometimes it seems Rauner goes out of his way to steer money away from CPS.
Last year, for instance, he vowed not to send more state aid to Chicago, just as Rahm was in New York City, trying to assure Wall Street lenders that this same state aid would help pay for the new contract with the teachers’ union. Before all was said and done, CPS had to spend an extra $110 million in borrowing costs, in part because Rauner’s comments undercut the city’s credibility with lenders.
That’s $110 million that will never get spent where it’s needed the most—in the classroom.
And CPS still isn’t out of the woods, even with all that money borrowed at exorbitant rates. This year’s CPS budget was dependent on $215 million in state aid that was passed by the Democratic state legislature.
But in December Rauner vetoed that bill in order to force Mayor Rahm to demand more pension concessions from teachers.
As I’ve mentioned before, the state supreme court already ruled that such concessions are unconstitutional. So Rauner’s asking Rahm to do something he can’t do.
This is what Chance was getting at when, in Monday’s press conference, he said: “[Rauner] broke his promise to Chicago’s children. Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positions.”
Chance was chastising Rauner for holding back on the state aid unless Rahm caved on pensions and other issues. In short, Rauner has been pitting the children of Chicago against their teachers in the hopes of using the outcries from the former to force concessions from the latter. Anything to avoid raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens to adequately fund public education.
Until Chance spoke out, Rauner had seemed impervious to pleas from ordinary Chicagoans. His political base lies outside of Chicago, so his key voters won’t be directly affected if CPS goes bankrupt. And he basically owns the state legislature’s Republicans, having purchased their loyalty with his campaign donations. The Democrats, meanwhile, can’t find any Republicans to give them the votes they need to override Rauner’s veto. So we’re apparently incapable of keeping Rauner in check. And you thought the situation with Trump in Washington was bad.
Curiously enough, Rauner does seem eager to connect with Chance. Not sure why. Maybe he thinks it will help him win the millennial vote.
Whatever his reasons, it was in the aftermath of last week’s meeting with Chance that Rauner stole a page from yours truly by calling on Rahm to compensate for the $215 million by raiding the city’s TIF funds.
Rauner likely felt compelled to make some kind of PR gesture, but I really didn’t see that one coming.
Better late than never to the TIF fight, governor. I’ll get into the ins and outs of TIFs and school funding another time, but for the moment, let me say that we need to raid the TIF funds and send in more state aid to fend off bankruptcy for CPS.
So please keep up the pressure, Chance. Call in your friends—Common, Kanye, whomever. Hell, go to New York and bring in Beyonce and Jay Z for your next news conference if you have to. Chicago’s public school students need all the help they can get. v