Jay-Z’s support for educational freedom irks teachers’ union

Photo: Joella Marano via Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Influential music mogul Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) supports Pennsylvania breaking the financial chains that are keeping students stuck in low-performing schools, much to the dismay of the teachers’ union.

Pennsylvania is currently politically divided over a school choice proposal that would make scholarships available to families living in the Commonwealth’s lowest-achieving school districts, based on state testing metrics.

Called the Lifeline Scholarship program, it has the support of unexpected allies including Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, reports Education Week.

Jay-Z’s philanthropy has launched a multi-faceted marketing and awareness campaign in Philadelphia to make sure families know about the efforts to provide taxpayer-funded private school options.

Team Roc…is hosting a series of “dine and learn” events in Philadelphia throughout the month, to build “local and city-wide support in Philadelphia for educational opportunity and freedom of choice,” according to its website.

Roc Nation is supporting outreach through dining events, billboards, digital trucks, and a website explaining the legislation, said Dania Diaz, the managing director of philanthropy at Roc Nation.

“Yes, the public education system needs a lot more support in various ways but we do know it’s going to take some time to fix,” she said. “Why not offer the option for parents to choose a possible solution for their child where they’re not in a system where proficiency is so low, where they can potentially thrive in another system, in another educational setting that is more fitting for them today and right now?”

The scholarship proposal has been denounced by the Pennsylvania teachers’ union and a national teachers’ union, the American Federation for Teachers (AFT), who has a long history of opposing important education reform efforts related to educational freedom. “Jay-Z has released some killer albums, but when it comes to promoting a state funded voucher programs [sic], we agree with our Pennsylvania affiliates in saying ‘this ain’t it,'” according to a statement from AFT president Randi Weingarten.

“It’s interesting because everyone here cares about education but they’re centering different things,” Diaz told Education Week. “We want to center the children and their families which are getting lost in all these critiques.”