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Chance the Rapper writes $1 million check to Chicago Public Schools as a ‘call to action’

Chance+the+Rapper+holds+a+press+conference+at+Westcott+Elementary+School+in+Chicago%26apos%3Bs+Chatham+neighborhood+on+March+6%2C+2017.+%28Zbigniew+Bzdak%2FChicago+Tribune%2FTNS%29
Chance the Rapper holds a press conference at Westcott Elementary School in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood on March 6, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Chance the Rapper holds a press conference at Westcott Elementary School in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood on March 6, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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Chance the Rapper holds a press conference at Westcott Elementary School in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood on March 6, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak/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.

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 CPS, 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.”

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“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.

CPS 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. 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.

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Chance the Rapper holds a press conference at Westcott Elementary School in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood on March 6, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The first option presented by Rauner earlier Monday includes passing legislation that would allow Emanuel to tap into the city’s tax increment financing funds to cover the cost. The other once again ties the money to passage of a larger overhaul of the state’s pension retirement program.

For Rauner, the two options are a way to respond to public pressure from Chance the Rapper while also putting the onus elsewhere. The TIF district idea makes coming up with the money the problem of state lawmakers, Emanuel and potentially aldermen. The pension idea, if executed, would get Rauner a long-sought item from his legislative and economic wish list while requiring Democrats who control the General Assembly to go against their union allies who oppose the changes to the retirement system.

The governor has said the city must take responsibility for what he says is decades of mismanagement at CPS, hence the suggestion that the city tap into TIF funds that are currently earmarked to promote investment and economic development.

“However, given the extraordinary mismanagement of both the city and CPS budgets, legislation could be enacted to authorize a one-time mayoral transfer of $215 million from Chicago TIF funds to CPS,” wrote Michael Mahoney, Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs.

Mahoney said the city should revise its policy and allow TIF districts to collect dollars for education funding, saying the idea “represents a compromise that both attracts business investment and supports public schools.”

Alternatively, the administration wants to tie broader statewide pension changes to the $215 million pension pick-up for CPS.

The school district immediately rejected the governor’s plan.

“Yet again, Gov. 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,” CPS 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.”

Mayoral spokesman Adam Collins weighed in, too, characterizing Rauner’s latest proposals as “no solution at all.”

“His plan to fix the fact that Chicago taxpayers pay twice for teacher pensions is to have them pay three times instead,” Collins said in the 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.”

Emanuel was in New York on Monday making an announcement about participants in this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial.

The governor’s pension plan is one he first pushed last year, but he ultimately vetoed a plan to send money to CPS after Democratic Senate President John Cullerton publicly suggested there had never been a deal linking the two concepts.

Rauner later acknowledged he was “a little emotional” when he vetoed the legislation not long after Cullerton made his comments. Without the $215 million, CPS has made moves to cut costs, furloughing employees and freezing school budgets. Last week, the district announced it may make cuts to summer school and shorten the school year by about three weeks _ for a savings of about $96 million _ if the state or the courts don’t intervene.

While Senate lawmakers are already weighing the pension changes, they are tied to a larger effort to pass sweeping legislation to end the state’s unprecedented budget impasse. Those efforts hit a roadblock last week amid lagging support from Republicans, which Cullerton blamed on interference from Rauner.

Rauner’s office now says the pension changes should be considered apart from the broader budget deal, a move that could be seen as him acknowledging those efforts won’t go anywhere.

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 CPS, as part of a $46 million budget freeze that hit hundreds of buildings but landed hard on schools with mostly poor and minority students.

CPS 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.

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.)

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(c)2017 Chicago Tribune

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