Jay-Z’s Roc Nation pushes back against those criticizing its support of school vouchers in Philadelphia

The Pass It Forward campaign has drawn ire for its attempts to drum up support for the Republican-backed bill.

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Jay-Z standing in front of a large American flag

FILE - Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter appears after a news conference at Philadelphia Museum of Art on May 14, 2012, in Philadelphia, announcing his two-day music festival. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is defending its stance on supporting school vouchers in Philadelphia. The self-made billionaire and rapper is no stranger to controversy. The businessman has taken stances that have caused debate among his fans and critics over issues concerning social justice and U.S. policing.

Jay-Z faced backlash from supporters of Colin Kaepernick and critics of the National Football League after the hip-hop mogul and his label teamed up with the league on a new initiative to amplify social justice.

Now Jay-Z and Roc Nation are under fire for hosting “Dine and Learn” events in Philly neighborhoods.

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The events provide free dinners while educating families about school choice vouchers. The rapper has come out in support of Republican-backed Senate Bill 795, known as the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) scholarship program.

PASS was introduced in August 2023 by Sen. Judy Ward (R-30) to enable students from low-income families currently in underperforming schools to access funding for private education via school vouchers.

The author of the bill, Republican Senator Judy Ward, released this exclusive statement to WHYY News:

“The efforts of Jay Z in support of the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) scholarship program is encouraging to see,” said Senator Ward. 

“Like many parents and families across the commonwealth, especially those trapped in schools that are failing them, Jay Z understands the importance of giving children their best chance at a quality education that fits their needs and the life changing opportunity that a PASS scholarship provides.”

Democratic lawmakers complained the school voucher program would take money away from public education, and they expressed frustration over Jay-Z’s support of the measure.

The vouchers would be funded by taxpayers and could cost the state $100 million if the bill passes.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks posted a video on X, formerly known as ‘Twitter’ slamming the rapper as she joined protestors outside the state capitol in Harrisburg Monday.

“Vouchers put public money in the pockets of the rich, while draining resources from public schools in our communities. I don’t give a [damn] what Jay-Z said or meek mill.”

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.

The School District of Philadelphia issued a statement explaining their need for more funding.

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“The Pennsylvania public school funding system has inadequately and inequitably funded low-wealth school districts for decades. This is true across Pennsylvania, but is certainly true here in Philadelphia, where we are continually forced to parse insufficient resources, resources which cannot meet the varying needs of our students and staff,” said district spokeswoman Monique Braxton.

“An infusion of funding would enable our students to have the same opportunities for a high-quality education as their peers across the Commonwealth. With the additional funding, as a District, we would be positioned to shift the conversation from how to invest limited resources to how we accelerate academic achievement by focusing on robust academic programming that takes place in 21st-century learning environments.”

If PASS is approved, School District of Philadelphia students could opt out and apply to private schools.

The PASS program would distribute funds to eligible students according to the following scale:

  • $2,500 for students in half-day kindergarten
  • $5,000 for students in full-day kindergarten through 8th grade
  • $10,000 for students in the 9th through 12th grade
  • $15,000 for students with special needs

Dania Diaz, Roc Nation’s managing director of philanthropy, spoke out against the criticism and cited a report in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, which found 8th-grade students are among those across the commonwealth suffering in underperforming schools.

“Philly in particular, or Pennsylvania in particular, what’s alarming is the proficiency stats. 75% of (eighth-grade) students aren’t proficient in math, and 47% of (eighth-grade) students aren’t proficient in language arts, and when you look at the bottom 15% of the school system, the lowest performing schools, those numbers become even more dire,” said Diaz.

“We are supporters of the public school system … But numbers don’t lie, and the data shows that there must be another avenue for success for the state’s most vulnerable students’” Diaz said.

“Different communities across the country will require different solutions and should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. For Pennsylvania, we believe PASS scholarships provide caregivers and students an education alternative that they should have the right to consider. We can’t sit idly for another decade as the proficiency rates for students in Pennsylvania plunge lower and lower. We can’t keep failing the next generation of state leaders. The children of Pennsylvania deserve better.”

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