From Rappers to Tech Companies: Who's Getting into Education Funding in Chicago?

Just when you’ve had it up to here with all the negative news in Chicago these days, a random and uplifting story comes from an unexpected place.

Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, has become famous for chart-busting hits like “No Problem” and “Chain Smoker.” But now, he’s generating buzz around the streets of Chicago as a philanthropist and education activist, too. The rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer hails from the West Chatham neighborhood of Chicago, and he recently announced a $1 million donation to Chicago Public Schools. Also, he plans to donate $10,000 to area schools for every $100,000 that is donated through his nonprofit, SocialWorks.

"This check is a call to action,” he said. “I'm challenging major companies and corporations to donate and take action."

Specifically, this is a call-out to both local and national foundations to support the grossly underfunded school district in Chicago until legislators figure out a solution. There has been talk about closing schools early because of the district’s pension gap, potentially setting CPS students even further back academically. Chance the Rapper has already written checks to Westcott Elementary School and the Auburn Gresham Elementary School.

He has been highly critical of Governor Rauner’s education efforts; however, a mayoral spokesman has criticized the rapper’s proposed solutions as being "no solution at all." Meanwhile, this $1 million donation has caused some observers to point out that such celebrity philanthropy is merely a drop in the bucket, ultimately “exacerbating the divide between the poor and elite.”

However, Chance the Rapper isn’t the only one paying attention to the state of education in Chicago right now. Over the last couple years, we’ve followed tech companies in Chicago and the shift of their corporate philanthropic strategies toward education. Tech education officially became a graduation requirement for Chicago Public School students back in 2013, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a five-year plan to make it happen. This has big implications for tech companies based here. 


We recently reconnected with Dan Waidelich of kCura, one of the tech companies we've highlighted in the past. To date, kCura has donated or pledged over $1.8 million to schools and education-oriented nonprofits in Chicago. The company has been investing in CPS since 2011, primarily with its Wired to Learn grants ($250,000 over three years, milestone contingent). The big focus here is technology access and education, and the company’s performance data shows measurable success in the schools it has helped.

The biggest events on this company’s philanthropic calendar revolve around education, as well. Premiering last year, Chicago Tech Rocks brought together local bands to benefit education access organizations in the city and raised $125,000. Another big player in Chicago tech, T4Youth, hosts an annual ping pong tournament to benefit Chicago Tech Academy, which is a nonprofit, four-year contract school that educates disadvantaged students in STEM topics in high school, college and beyond. The growing tournament has been held for three years, now, and topped $100,000 in fundraising in 2016.

The larger point in these examples is that education is on the forefront of the conversation in Chicago these days, including those with resources to spare. Whether you’re a rapper on the stage or a techie behind a screen, the city’s education system is something that affects us all. Celebrities often look to boost their old ‘hoods once they’ve made it big, and local companies have a big stake in an educated workforce.