Chicago Public Schools’ financial woes fell under the glare of the national spotlight Monday — as Chance the Rapper pushed a pass-the-hat approach to helping the embattled school district hours after Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration offered up its own two options to try to solve the mess.
Rauner’s suggestions came three days after the Grammy-winning rap star left the governor’s office at the conclusion of a much touted meeting, only to say he was left with “vague” answers about how to solve CPS’ problems.
The West Chatham native — whose real name is Chancelor Bennett — has shone a light on the funding problem to his more than 3 million Twitter followers – and his $1 million donation to CPS on Monday prompted a “thanks” tweet from former first lady Michelle Obama.
It all began with a congratulatory tweet from the governor, offered to Chance after his historic Grammy wins. But it didn’t end with the two singing the same tune.
In announcing the donation and a campaign to raise funds for the school district, Chance said: “I’m frustrated and disappointed in the governor’s inaction,” saying Rauner has responded to him with “caveats” and “ultimatums.”
Chance — whose father is former Emanuel deputy chief of staff Ken Bennett — said Rauner “broke his promise” when he vetoed a bill to give $215 million last year “as a result of an admitted emotional reaction.”
The governor last year vetoed a bill to give CPS teacher pension funds after Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said it wasn’t tied to overall pension reform — which was part of an agreement among the four leaders.
“Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positioning,” Chance said in announcing the $1 million donation, in addition to a $10,000 donation to Westcott Elementary School.
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Rauner’s office on Monday afternoon responded to Chance’s donations by saying contributions won’t be enough to solve the school district’s woes — noting the Rauners’ longtime support of CPS and their $7 million in contributions through the Rauner Family Foundation and donations from personal funds. The administration also implored CPS officials to come to Springfield to negotiate.
“While the Rauners are passionate donors to our schools, individual contributions will never be enough to address the financial challenges facing CPS,” Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement. “It would be helpful if CPS officials came to Springfield and joined in serious good faith discussions about the long-term stability of all of our schools.”
Ahead of Chance’s Monday news conference, the Rauner administration released a memo recommending two options to provide $215 million needed for teacher pensions: have Mayor Emanuel use tax-increment-financing surplus funds to plug the hole, or separate a pension reform bill from the Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” and include one-time funding for CPS.
The move to take the embattled pension reform bill out of the “grand bargain” package concerned many lawmakers — who see its removal as a potential sign the grand bargain may be dead. It left Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s staff scratching their heads.
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson on Monday accused Rauner of killing the “grand bargain” package last week and leaving mixed messages about what exactly he wants.
“We’ve split this out twice and Governor Rauner vetoed it both times, saying it had to be tied to be part of a comprehensive solution. Now we tie it to a comprehensive plan and he kills the deal and says it should stand alone,” Patterson said in a statement. “I think you can see why the Senate decided to try to negotiate its own solution and not negotiate with the governor.”
One of the offered options would add the CPS money to Cullerton’s pension reform bill — which Rauner has supported — but has failed twice in the Senate. The pension bill has union opposition, and tying it to the CPS bill may force some Democrats to support the measure.
“Such a comprehensive pension reform agreement would satisfy the deal we made last summer and could be signed into law without delay,” the memo from Rauner policy head Michael Mahoney to his deputy chief of staff Richard Goldberg says.
The option involving tax-increment-financing, or TIF, funds suggests that Emanuel transfer $215 million for a one-time authorization from Chicago TIF funds to CPS. Emanuel last year used an $87.5 million tax-increment-financing surplus to stave off another teachers strike. That move was criticized by his floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), who called that plan “not sustainable.”
“We are in the process of drafting this legislation in case the General Assembly, the Governor and other advocates want to move on this idea quickly,” Mahoney wrote.
The TIF option would force Chicago’s hand in taking care of its own pensions. Rauner has long blamed their problems on financial mismanagement.
Mahoney also recommends the city revise its TIF policies and collect taxes for education. “This solution is in place across the state and represents a compromise that both attracts business investment and supports public schools.”
Tax-increment-financing was created to promote economic development in blighted areas. When a TIF district is created, property taxes are frozen at existing levels for 23 years. During that time, the “increment” or growth in property taxes are held in a special fund and used for specific purposes that include infrastructure, public improvements and developer subsidies.
Responding to the plans laid out, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said Rauner is forcing Chicago students to be treated differently than others in the state.
“Yet again, Governor 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,” Bittner said in a statement.
Mayoral spokesman Adam Collins, too, criticized Rauner’s perceived solutions.
“Governor Rauner’s suggestions are 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 a 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.
Chicago pays into both Chicago teacher pensions and pensions for teachers statewide, but also receives an additional block grant. The Illinois Senate is attempting to pass a school funding reform formula that would put all school districts on more equal footing. Rauner contends CPS’ money woes are caused by years of mismanagement, while CPS says it’s up to Rauner and the state to help the embattled school system which serves a majority of low poverty children.
Last week, the “grand bargain” plan imploded — with Cullerton pointing the finger squarely at Rauner, saying he “decided to interject himself” into the plan — which included many of the governor’s preferred reforms.
Lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday, with the Illinois Senate scheduling hearings to question agency heads about their budget plans — with no clear budget path ahead.