Jay-Z’s $300M bet: How Roc Nation’s voucher push aims to transform Philly’s failing schools

June 14, 2024

By Tim Worstall

School choice, vouchers, charter schools — basically, being freed from the local educational bureaucracy — is a great idea. This works better for poorer and more deprived children. The worse the current system the greater the improvement. So, those poor Black and Hispanic kids trapped in the truly appalling inner city schools are the biggest beneficiaries. This is a good thing.

So does Jay-Z. He’s backing, through his company Roc Nation, an expansion of vouchers in Philadelphia. This is called a $300 million program but that’s the size of the voucher program, not Roc’s backing.

The entertainment mogul’s Roc Nation announced it is funding a campaign this month to drum up support for the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success, a statewide legislative proposal to spend taxpayer money on private school scholarships for low-income families in neighborhoods with low-achieving schools.

That’s great and won’t hear a word said against it. But there are two important things to be said.

The first is, to us, the interesting point that school choice, vouchers and charters, has become such an obvious benefit that cultural icons are backing it. This isn’t – not anymore it isn’t – the preserve of policy nerds and the wilder ends of the political spectrum. This is now a mainstream cultural movement.

The second is perhaps the more important one. There’s a significant part of that culture out there that regards this as a betrayal: 

Team Roc, which drew criticism after announcing its campaign to support vouchers, 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.

Criticism? For hosting events which explain the idea to people? Really, criticism for that?  Yes, sadly so:

As pro-public education groups plan a rally at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, educators and advocates on Friday criticized hip-hop icon Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation over a campaign backing a proposed school voucher program in the commonwealth.

The answer is that those are not “pro-public education groups” those are the bureaucracy fighting back against the bureaucracy losing budget and power. For the only people who lose out from school choice – whether vouchers, charters or any of the other variants – are those who sit in offices and “administer” the public school system. They’re the people who are shown to be what’s wrong with that system by parents being able to avoid them.

But, really:

But others argue that anything that encourages funding to be stripped from public education is detrimental to kids and society at large.

Not paying for the bureaucracy and instead spending the money on actual education sounds like a darn good idea to us. But that isn’t the way that the public debate goes at all.

Jay-Z is being attacked because – and only because, simply because – the cultural icon is aiding people in hearing about how their lives might be improved. By, of course, those few who would lose from the new system and those few are the problem in the current system.

This is, sadly, how it goes. But there is that light at the end of the tunnel. We have moved to the cultural icons backing the idea. There’s more work to be done, more effort required. But it’s obvious that we will win. We’re at the point now that we’re riding that societal tide and we’ve got to just keep up the pressure.


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