Chance the Rapper donated $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools last week with promises of more, trying to bolster arts and after-school programs that have suffered from never-ending budget cuts.
But the city’s broke school system has quietly maintained its own way to contribute to schools and programs for 30 years.
CPS calls its charitable arm the “Children First Fund,” a foundation set up to accept grants, cash contributions and donated items on behalf of CPS, then funnel them to schools and programs, providing the donors a tax-deductible way to support the schools.
“The CFF mission is to support CPS’ ultimate goal of ensuring that every child in every school is on track at every stage in his or her career to graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment,” read foundation tax documents for the year ending July 30, 2016. “CFF has raised over $100 million for CPS schools and administrative units since its inception.”
Chance’s announcement put a spotlight on the Children First Fund, since the $1.1 million he’s so far promised will be routed through it; the money is coming from Chance’s own nonprofit, SocialWorks.
According to his own website, “each donation will go directly to the Chicago Public Schools Foundation, directly impacting students,” used to “strengthen curriculum, provide materials for student support, create enrichment opportunities, and help evaluate performance to hold CPS accountable towards maintaining high standards.”
Only a few details are known about the donation that will bump up the charity’s revenue by 25 percent and SocialWorks leaders still won’t say, emailing that they’d have more information on Monday.
Chance has announced names of 10 neighborhood schools, each of which will receive $10,000 as part of a match SocialWorks promised for every $100,000 it collects.
CPS wouldn’t make anyone available for an interview.
District spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in an email, “Chance is an extraordinary young CPS graduate who is multiplying his generosity, and we are very appreciative for his efforts, however he sees fit to raise the funds.”
The latest available tax records show that the Children First Fund collected about $4 million in each of the last few years, just a fraction of the $30 million the fund collected in 2007.
The fund has paid out burial assistance to families of CPS students, collected uniforms for homeless students, supplemented sports programs and upgraded school facilities like science labs.
But some of its biggest outlays have focused on controversial district policies such as student-based budgeting and collaborations with publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.
Last year’s largest grant was $420,913 for what CPS listed as “district charter collaboration.” The year before, it was $765,997 for that same initiative.
David Vitale, who sat on the foundation board while he headed Chicago’s school board, said that’s because those policy expenses were paid for by grants earmarked for specific purposes.
“Historically, generally most contributions to the foundations have come through other foundations,” Vitale said, adding that many large foundations are “more comfortable” giving to another foundation rather than directly to the district.
Vitale acknowledged that the fund, which stands separate from CPS, has been poorly promoted, though it does permit easy donations online. He said he was working on a plan to publicize it before he stepped down.
Bittner said the group has recently been reconstituted “to breathe new life” into it and added Shannon Babcock, who currently manages CPS’ external partnerships for $159,000 a year, as its executive director.
School board president Frank Clark now heads its governing board, comprising attorney Alan King and Mary Cahillane of the Spencer Foundation. Terry Mazany, of the Chicago Community Trust, remains as a board member — he was the president preceding Clark. And unlike in past years, the board also includes CPS’ CEO Forrest Claypool.
Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter schools said the foundation won giant grants from the Gates Foundation a decade ago to align charter schools to district policy, and spent money on consultants bringing charters into the district’s ratings system and trying to create a common admissions process.
Fundraising is hardly likely to fill CPS’ current budget hole, which stands at $129 million, even after furlough days and budget freezes. CPS blames Gov. Bruce Rauner for vetoing legislation in December containing $215 million in pension money the district counted on. Rauner has said that the conditions legislators agreed to for that money weren’t met and that CPS’ fiscal irresponsibility precedes his tenure.
Chance’s fundraising means CPS donations could run through parallel channels.
The Jones College Prep High School alum said he’ll collect contributions from celebrities, corporations and other “people of influence.” The website of the Grammy-award winning rapper even features a direct action button that users can click to tweet at companies: “we need your help to save the kids of Chicago. #supportCPS”
Vitale said that bundling isn’t unusual for foundations, and that maybe Chance will have more luck than CPS has in recent years in attracting donations.
“There are people who don’t want to give money,” he said. “They think the bureaucracy sucks it up.”