For a guy who’s left public office, Arne Duncan is pretty opinionated about how Illinois should be run.

The former U.S. secretary of education says inequity in education — when “more money is spent on children of the wealthy than kids who are poor” — is the state’s greatest education problem, and it’s much to blame for the violence that’s seized the city.

“It’s a travesty” that needs to be fixed, he says. “I don’t know if there’s a political will to get it done.”

Does Duncan have the will? He won’t say yes — or no.

The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools returned late last year from Washington after seven years working with President Barack Obama. “My goal was to stay eight years,” he says, but returned “for a host of family reasons.”

Political watchers have noted that you must be an Illinois resident for three years in order to run for statewide office.

Duncan has joined California-based Emerson Collective as a managing partner. The organization puts money into programs in struggling communities. A few months ago it handed out grants of between $5,000 and $25,000 to Chicago nonprofits that use peace as a model to end violence. Emerson was founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. She named the organization after Ralph Waldo Emerson, who espoused the idea of self reliance.

Duncan talked about his worries of Chicago in a one-on-one interview and during a Q&A with volunteers from City Year Chicago, another organization that works in hard-hit neighborhoods.

“Over the next few years, I want to have an impact to make sure kids are safe,” he says.

Duncan worries about children being kept indoors because it’s not safe to go outside. “We have to do better.”

“I spend all my days talking about violence in the city,” he says. “I talk to people who have been shot. And I spend a day a month in Cook County Jail talking to shooters and trying to understand them and their world. There’s not one person I’m talking to in the jail who has a college degree.”

He answered some light-hearted questions from City Year volunteers, too.

Who plays basketball better, you or the president?

“I plead the Fifth,” said Duncan, sounding a lot like a politician.

David and Marilyn Vitale donate $3.5 million to Court

David and Marilyn Vitale

David and Marilyn Vitale | Sun-Times file photo

David Vitale and his wife, Marilyn, have given $3.5 million to Court Theatre in Hyde Park.

The Vitales are long-time Hyde Parkers and supporters of the theater on the University of Chicago Campus.

David is a banker and former board of education president. And Marilyn’s name is synonymous with the Court. She’s served on its board for more than 20 years, including three as chair. She’s also been a force in moving the Court to showcase classical theater.

She sees theater, especially the classics as a mirror to our lives. “It’s everything we experience today,” she says. “No one knows what life will bring. Reading classics and watching the classics helps you figure it out.”

Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, credits the Court with creating “an ambitious national model” for professional theater at universities.

With the Vitale gift, artistic director Charles Newell will be named the inaugural Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director of Court Theatre. He directs “Man in the Ring” opening this week. You could call the boxing production written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer a modern classic.

Fighting cancer is personal for this power couple

Lindsay Avner and and Gregg Kaplan

Lindsay Avner and and Gregg Kaplan | Provided photo

Redbox founder and former CEO Gregg Kaplan and his wife, health advocate Lindsay Avner, have created a website focused on genetic testing as it relates to breast and ovarian cancer.

The subject is deeply personal to both. Kaplan’s first wife, Felicia, died four years ago of breast cancer. She was 42. Kaplan always wondered if she would have survived had she known earlier in life that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation.

Avner tested positive for BRCA1 herself, and in 2006 underwent a risk-reducing double mastectomy. She went on to found Bright Pink, a national nonprofit that focuses on educating young women and helping them manage and reduce their breast and ovarian cancer risk by starting early, when it matters most.

The two met in 2013 when Kaplan inquired about helping Bright Pink. They clicked and married last year. A baby’s on the way.

Kaplan and Avner have created ExploreYourGenetics.org to “demystify the genetic testing process,” says Avner. The website will work under Bright Pink’s umbrella and offer content about concerns, costs and the in’s and out’s of insurance.

Read more “Taking Names” at shiakapos.com.