This former teacher does not share Chance’s optimism in the public education system’s ability to do the right thing with the money.
This week, Chance the Rapper announced he would be donating $1 million to Chicago’s public schools. The news came after he met with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner after Rauner vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million to Chicago schools. That money could have covered wages — in addition to school supplies and infrastructure improvements for Chicago schools.
During their meeting, Rauner provided a lot of “vague” responses to Chance’s questions about why the law was vetoed, and came up with no next steps.
So Chance donated $1 million dollars in future concert revenue to Chicago’s public schools.
A kingly move to say the least. I, for one, could not be more happy for the children of Chicago. But I have been here before. I have to say: don’t start your public-education Gofundme pages yet.
Public school systems receive donations all the time. To protect the district and the donors they set up foundations, which manage the money and allocate it to the schools per donor instructions. Therefore, private money becomes public money, which means there is an expectancy of transparency and scrutiny. However, these donations can only be used in limited ways: to purchase supplies, teacher trainings, infrastructure improvements and other tangible items. It cannot go to operational budgets and wages.
However, these donations are also vulnerable to mismanagement. Remember when Ellen De Generes, Lowe’s and Justin Bieber donated $500,000 to fix the gaping roof hole and gym floor in Spain Elementary in Detroit back in February 2016? The check was cut to the Detroit Public Schools Foundation (not the actual school, which could have been seen as a conflict of interest), where it got tied up in a bidding war between district cronies and greedy contractors who wanted to be listed as the business that fixed Spain. The story got lost after the school principal went to prison for accepting $23,000 in kickbacks. The state finally relinquished control of the district to a locally elected school board. And here we are, a year later — under no fanfare, the gym floor was fixed and the roof was patched. But the school is operating with four classrooms that don’t have a full time teacher, and a canceled performing arts program.
Schools don’t need donations — they need government funding. Legislators are always adamant that when governments cut school funding, it doesn’t manifest in clear and obvious harm to students. That would be a public relations nightmare. Instead, they make cuts that harm adults at the root, and let the harm to students emerge as some casual series of unfortunate events.
For example, ancillary stuff is the first to go. Make the teachers or parents purchase some more school supplies. Then lay off your lunch aides, janitors and bus drivers. After that, if you need to contract out school services, which alleviates the need to pay pensions and health care costs. Legislators and district superintendents will argue that contracting services out will stimulate small business.
Then they cut teacher salaries. Sometimes they stop contributing to teachers’ retirement funds, or stop subsidizing their health care. I remember when they did away with paid maternity leave for teachers. Can you imagine that a female-run industry, such as education, has no maternity leave benefits? If the Powers That Be are feeling really bold, they will say something like, “a teacher pay freeze is in effect” or “across-the-board 10 percent cuts.” I have seen both happen.
As a result of this, teacher burnout increases. Teachers begin leaving their jobs in the middle of the school year, or changing careers while they are still in their 20s. The workload becomes too much and the payoffs too small. Meanwhile, donations roll into the foundations. Teachers don’t need more supplies or trainings. They need professional investment. Do you know that teachers have to continue to pay for upper-level college credits to maintain their certifications? Classes they pay for themselves?
The election of President Donald Trump — and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as his Education Secretary — won’t do education funding any favors.
Again, I am so happy that Chance took this opportunity to be about what he was talking about with Gov. Rauner. But when are we going to stop buying bulletin board paper, smart boards and tablets, and start investing in the people who will be managing these necessary supplies? By continuing to make donations, you are throwing money at the problem. The idea of a respectable wage for educators will never go away. So, this former teacher does not share Chance’s optimism in the public education system’s ability to do the right thing with the money. But I do know that Chance the Rapper’s fans, like me, will be watching closely.
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously described what happened to the $500,000 donation from Ellen Degeneres, Justin Bieber and Lowe’s. The error has been corrected.