Jay-Z's School Choice Initiative Draws Left-Wing Fury

Jay-Z (Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)
June 11, 2024

Rap artist Jay-Z drew outrage from left-wing critics over the weekend when his talent agency unveiled an initiative to promote a school-choice program that would give Philadelphia's low-income students access to the city's prestigious private schools.

Roc Nation, the talent agency Jay-Z founded, will host events to educate residents about proposed legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate that would distribute from public funds up to $300 million in scholarships to low-income students. The legislation is similar to school-choice voucher programs across the country that give students the opportunity to pursue education at private schools rather than low-performing public schools.

"We want to empower the youth and families with the knowledge to pursue their scholastic dreams, make their voices heard, and become the leaders of tomorrow," Roc Nation's managing director of philanthropy Dania Diaz said of the initiative. Left-wing opponents of school-choice policies, however, described Jay-Z's education initiative as a betrayal and a sinister collaboration with right-wing forces.

"This is no different than the right-wing efforts in Arizona, Florida and elsewhere just because they put a Black face on it," wrote Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the New York Times's controversial 1619 Project series.

The American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania joined in on the criticism, posting a photo of Jay-Z at a black-tie event in the same frame as Republican donor and school-choice advocate Jeffrey Yass. The teachers' union added a caption to the photo reading, "This ain't it. And for good measure, here's a still of [Jay-Z] and Jeffrey Yass, PA's richest man, potential Trump Treasury Secretary, and the force behind the voucher push in PA." A Philadelphia Inquirer columnist said of the picture, "Jay-Z and J-Yass, toxic pairing."

AFT’s national president, Randi Weingarten, who has repeatedly likened school choice to an overt attempt to resegregate education, reposted another message by Hannah-Jones on X that characterized Roc Nation’s initiative as an effort "to convince poor Black parents to leave the public schools."

Last year, Weingarten referred to terms like "choice" and "parental rights" as "those same words that you heard in terms of wanting segregation post-Brown v. Board of Education."

House Democrats also weighed in to lambaste the Roc Nation initiative.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D., Fla.) wrote on X, "$300 million to the public schools those students currently attend would be a game changer."

Eighty percent of third-through-eighth-graders in the Philadelphia School District, which has a budget of $4.5 billion, were below the state proficiency level in math, and 66 percent were not proficient in literature.

According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a statewide Pennsylvania public policy organization, "among the bottom 15 percent of public schools, fewer than one-in-ten students is proficient in math, and only one-quarter are proficient in English. In 40 of these schools, there were zero students doing math at grade level."

"The answer to the inequity plaguing our PA public schools is not a celebrity campaign for a GOP proposal to take public dollars to send a few 'lucky' kids to private schools," wrote Rep. Summer Lee (D., Pa.). "The answer is to make sure our public schools are actually properly funded."

Published under: Democrats , School Choice