Here’s what you need to know about Jay-Z’s campaign to help Philly students afford private school

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is hosting events in Philly to give information to families about a bill proposal slated to provide funds for students who want to attend private schools.


FILE - Jay-Z arrives at the premiere of "The Book of Clarence" on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Jay-Z is putting his weight behind an effort to fund private school vouchers in Philadelphia. The entertainment mogul’s Roc Nation announced it is funding a campaign in June 2024 to drum up support for the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

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Rap mogul Jay-Z is taking on a new project outside the world of music. His new mission is to improve education, specifically in lower-wealth areas with underfunded schools in Philadelphia.

However, his altruistic intentions are being challenged by critics. The artist, who famously rapped to fans that he is a “business… man” — not to be confused with a “businessman” — wants to make it so that families have access to private and charter schools, a proposition that some say is just what families need to better educate their children.

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

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What we know about Jay-Z’s latest announcement

On Friday, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation announced it would support the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS), a school voucher campaign aimed at promoting vouchers for Philadelphia-area students in grades K-12.

What is PASS?

PASS was introduced as Senate Bill 795 in August 2023 by Sen. Judy Ward (R-30) to enable students from low-income families currently in underperforming schools to access to private education through school vouchers.

What does PASS offer students, and who qualifies?

  • The program would provide scholarships to eligible students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • If approved, Roc Nation requests $100 million to go toward students who would receive scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $15,000.
  • Students must come from low-income families — in the lowest 15% of schools in statewide performance tests.

Why are people angry at the billionaire entertainer?

  • Initial reports stated that Jay-Z was donating $300 million to provide scholarships for students, which is false. If the legislature approves the measure, the funds would come from taxpayers.
  • President of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, Arthur Steinburg, released a statement on X slamming Jay-Z and Pennsylvania billionaire Jeffrey Yass, accusing them of taking funds away from public schools. Yass, a Republican, has donated tens of millions of dollars toward the school choice movement in Philadelphia.
  • Jay-Z’s representatives deny the accusations and said they are simply offering another option for parents who feel public education has failed them.
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How does Jay-Z plan to help Philly schools?

Jay-Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, launched the “Pass It Forward” campaign to educate the public about the PASS program through “Dine and Learn” events throughout the city. They held their first two events Monday and Tuesday in Philly communities; families were educated about the proposal, offered an opportunity to sign a petition to share support with lawmakers and made aware of their options for school choice vouchers. They were also provided dinner, which was fully paid for by Roc Nation.

The company plans to host additional informational sessions June 10–21 at various locations across the city.

The history of Philly’s underfunded schools

  • Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled the state’s current school funding system is unconstitutional. In the School District of Philadelphia, lower-wealth areas face teacher and staff shortages and maintenance issues, including a lack of A/C and outdated buildings. A report issued in January said Pennsylvania underfunds public school districts by more than $5 billion annually.
  • Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill to increase state funding of public schools by $864 million in the next academic year. Philadelphia public schools would see $242 million in new money for the upcoming school year if approved by the GOP-controlled Senate by June 30.

What ties does Jay-Z have to Philly?

Roc Nation’s managing director of philanthropy, Dania Diaz, told WHYY News, “We’ve always had a relationship with Philadelphia, whether it was through the Made in America Festival…”

She spoke further of financial contributions. “One of our pillars is education. Mr. Carter and his mom had established the Shawn Carter Foundation scholarships, [which has been in] existence for over 20 years providing education opportunities for most underserved students,” said Diaz.

What’s next, and where is the PASS bill now?

  • The Senate education committee passed a revised version of Senate Bill 795 (PASS) last month with bipartisan support.
  • It is now in the hands of the state Senate, who will be able to approve, table or amend the bill.
  • Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has voiced support for vouchers in the past, but later backed down in the face of House Democratic opposition.

The measure and the funds will need to be approved before the budget deadline of June 30.

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