In the News: Who’s Getting Into Education Funding in Chicago?

This post originally appeared at Inside Philanthropy.

Just when you’ve had it “up to here” with all the negative news in Chicago these days, a random and uplifting story comes from an unexpected place.

Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, has become famous for his chart-busting hits like “No Problem” and “Chain Smoker.” But now he’s starting to be known around the streets of Chicago as a philanthropist and education activist too. The rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer hails from the West Chatham neighborhood of Chicago, and he recently announced a $1 million donation to Chicago Public Schools. Also, he plans to donate $10,000 for different schools for every $100,000 that is donated through his nonprofit called SocialWorks.

“This check is a call to action,” he said. “I’m challenging major companies and corporations to donate and take action.”

More specifically, this is a call-out to both local and national foundations to support the grossly underfunded school district in Chicago until legislators figure out a solution. There has been talk about closing schools early because of the district’s pension gap, potentially setting CPS students even further back academically. Chase the Rapper’s checks have already been written to Westcott Elementary School, the Auburn Gresham Elementary School.

He has been highly critical about Governor Rauner’s education efforts; however, a mayor spokesman has criticized the rapper’s proposed solutions as being no solution at all. Meanwhile, this $1 million donation has caused some observers to point out that celebrity philanthropy like this is merely a drop in the bucket and ultimately “exacerbating the divide between the poor and elite.”

However, Chance the Rapper certainly isn’t the only one paying attention to the state of education in Chicago right now. Over the last couple years, we’ve also been following tech companies in Chicago and how their corporate philanthropic strategies have been shifting towards education. Tech education officially became a graduation requirement for Chicago Public School students back in 2013, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a five-year plan to make it happen. This has big implications for tech companies based here.

We recently re-connected with Dan Waidelich of kCura, one of the tech companies we’ve highlighted in the past. To date, kCura has donated or pledged over $1.8 million to schools and education-oriented nonprofits in Chicago. The company has been investing in CPS since 2011, primarily with its Wired to Learn grants ($250,000 over three years, milestone contingent). The big focus here is technology access and education, and the company’s performance data shows measurable success in the schools it has helped.

The biggest events on this company’s philanthropic calendar revolve around education as well. Premiering last year, Chicago Tech Rocks brought together local bands to benefit education access organizations in the city and raised $125,000. Another big player in Chicago tech, T4Youth, hosts an annual ping pong tournament to benefit Chicago Tech Academy, which is a nonprofit, four-year contract school that educates disadvantaged students in STEM topics in high school, college and beyond. The growing tournament has been held for three years now and topped $100,000 in fundraising in 2016.

The larger point in these examples is that education is on the forefront of many people’s mind in Chicago these days, including those with resources to spare. Whether you’re a rapper on the stage or a techie behind a screen, the city’s education system is something that affects us all. Celebrities often look to boost their old ‘hoods once they’ve made it big, and local companies have a big stake in an educated workforce.

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