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Arne Duncan speaks to City Year volunteers on Friday./Photo courtesy Chris McGuire for City Year 0

Arne Duncan sounds a lot like a politician

September 11th, 2016

For a guy who’s left public office, Arne Duncan is pretty opinionated about how Illinois should be run.

The former U.S. Secretary of Education says inequity in education–when “more money is spent on children of the wealthy than kids who are poor”–is the state’s greatest education problem and it’s much to blame violence that’s seized the city.

“It’s a travesty” that needs to be fixed, he says. “I don’t know if there’s a political will to get it done.”

Does Duncan have the will? He won’t say yes — or no.

The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools returned last year from D.C. after seven years working with President Barak Obama. “My goal was to stay eight years. But for a host of family reasons,” he had to return, he says.

Political watchers have noted that you must be an Illinois resident three years in order to run for statewide public office.

Duncan has joined California-based Emerson Collective as a managing partner. The organization puts money into programs in struggling communities. A few months ago it handed out grants from $5,000 to $25,000 to Chicago nonprofits that use peace as a model to end violence. Emerson was founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. She named the organization after Ralph Waldo Emerson, who espoused the idea of self-reliance.

Duncan talked about his worries of Chicago in a one-on-one interview and during a Q&A with volunteers from City Year Chicago, a nonprofit that works in hard-hit neighborhoods.

“Over the next few years, I want to have an impact to make sure kids are safe,” he says.

Duncan worries about children being kept indoors because it’s not safe to go outside. “We have to do better.”

He says, “I spend all my days talking about violence in the city. I talk to people who have been shot. And I spend a day a month in Cook County Jail talking to shooters and trying to understand them and their world. There’s not one person I’m talking to in the jail who has a college degree.”

He answered some light-hearted questions from City Year volunteers, too.

Who plays basketball better–you or the president?

“I plead the fifth,” said Duncan, sounding a lot like a politician.

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