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Chance the Rapper to Rauner: ‘Take our kids off the table’

Chance the Rapper addresses the media while walking out of the Thompson Center after meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday, March 3, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Music impresario Chance the Rapper’s summit Friday with Gov. Bruce Rauner apparently did not go well, but the Chicago native and three-time Grammy winner pledged to collaborate with the governor to come up with plan to fund the city’s public schools by Monday.

Chance, who grew up in West Chatham as Chancellor Bennett, left the Thompson Center saying he felt “flustered” after a 30-minute conversation with the governor that centered on funding for the Chicago Public Schools.

In brief remarks to reporters as he walked to the elevators with a small entourage, the rapper said he was frustrated by “vague answers” from the governor about funding for CPS, but had exchanged phone numbers with Rauner.

“I felt it went a little bit different than it should have,” said the 23-year-old Chance, who attended Jones College Prep. “I’m here because I just want people to do their jobs.”

“And I did speak with the governor. I asked him about funding CPS with that $215 million that was discussed in May of last year and was vetoed in December over, you know, political arguments and (stuff).”

Asked as he stepped onto an elevator what his message was, Chance said: “Take our kids off the table.”

But about an hour after the meeting, Chance seemed more optimistic, tweeting: “Chicago Public Schools and I did not lose today. Please don’t let that become the narrative. Monday morning I’ll have a plan.”

For his part, Rauner said the pair had agreed to talk more over the weekend on a school-funding solution that the two could present to the legislature when it reconvenes Tuesday. A school-funding deal for Chicago and districts across the state is frequently mentioned as part of a “grand bargain” between Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature that would end a two-year stalemate over the state budget— an impasse that certainly has included it’s share of “political (stuff).”

Rauner said he asked Chance to use his influence to help his cause, saying the rapper and son of a Chicago Democratic political operative had an “incredible voice” — presumably not referring to his singing.

“That powerful voice can be a voice for change,” Rauner said, addressing reporters after Chance left the building. “If we stood together, Chance, I have some power, I have power in some ways, you have great power in other ways. If we stood together, worked together, I think we could get big things done.”

Rauner’s meeting with the Chance, and promise to work on a funding plan, came a day after Senate Democrats accused the governor of scuttling a bi-partisan plan that had appeared close to getting a vote in the chamber.

Rauner pledged $215 million for CPS after negotiating a short-term budget last spring, with the funds contingent on legislative leaders passing a pension-reform package. Rauner later vetoed a bill that would have delivered the funds, calling the $215 million a “bailout” for cash-strapped CPS, and saying Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had reneged on pension-reform promises.

Cullerton said Rauner of sank a budget deal being negotiated in the chamber by insisting on further concessions from Democrats, then leaning on GOP senators to pull back their votes.

“I wish (Chance) the best in negotiating with the governor,” Cullerton said in a statement Friday.

Talking to reporters Friday, Rauner called the accusation that he had stalled negotiations “goofy.”

Sen. Kimberly Lightfoot, chairwoman of the Education Committee, welcomed the chance to collaborate with Chance.

“I applaud Chance for using his platform to advocate for our children. I am available to brief him on any of the many issues our education system has as he prepares for further conversations with the governor,” she said in a statement.

“At this point, the important part is that our children have not been receiving the quality education they rightfully deserve. If it takes Chance to get our governor to do the job, hats off to Chance.

Chance has won acclaim for his frequently politically charged lyrics since his first full-length mix tape launched him to stardom in 2012, and he has kept his hometown front and center in his work. His insights come in part from coming from an activist family: his father, Ken Bennett, was an aide to Harold Washington in the 1980s, and a former deputy chief of staff to Rahm Emanuel.

Bennett currently works for the tourism agency Choose Chicago, where Rauner served as chairman before his election as governor.

Chance also keeps a busy schedule in the city, still making regular appearances at open mic nights at the Harold Washington Library — which provided an early opportunity for him to perform— and even buying out a Chatham movie theater showing of “Get Out” last week and offering tickets free to anyone who showed up.

Chance officially ascended into the pop culture stratosphere with last year’s release of his third album, “Coloring Book,” which won three Grammys — an achievement that prompted Rauner to send out a congratulatory tweet. The rapper quickly responded with a tweet requesting a sit-down with the governor.

The governor quickly tweeted back and set up a meeting for Wednesday, which was postponed in the aftermath of tornadoes that struck the towns of downstate Ottawa and Naplate Tuesday night.

If Chance makes good on his promise to deliver a plan for school funding by Monday — when lawmakers will be out for the Casimir Pulaski Day holiday — it will be welcome news for CPS officials and Emanuel. The district has already announced a round of cuts to close the budget hole left behind when Rauner vetoed the $215 million, and the district last month filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding formula.

And even if he doesn’t, Chance’s request that media outlets — including those that seldom delve into the minutiae of the Illinois state budget, such as music magazine Complex — explain “how we got here” seemed to be putting the CPS budget crisis in the national spotlight. MTV News’ Twitter account unleashed a string of tweets outlining the CPS’s recent fiscal struggles.

Rauner, who could not name a Chance song when asked by a reporter, said he was impressed by the rapper’s commitment to Chicago’s children.

“He requested the meeting and I respect that. I try to meet with everybody that I can,” Rauner said. “I believe from everything that I’ve read about him and everything I’ve learned about him, and I saw it today, I believe he has a passion to have a better future for disadvantaged young people.

“Having a dialogue with someone who is passionate about a better future for the young people of Chicago and Illinois, I’m with him 100 percent. We may not agree with each other on everything. That’s OK.”