Armando Pérez, best known as rapper Pitbull, creates music that exemplifies the typical self-gratifying, party lifestyle. So, his strong support for education, especially charter schools, has surprised fans and critics alike. During the opening speech at the 2013 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools convention, Pérez said he wants “to help bring more choices to more students across the nation.”
Later this year, he will open his own charter school, Sports Leadership and Management, or “SLAM.” Located in Pérez’s hometown, Miami, SLAM is designed for middle and high school students working towards a career in the sports industry. Pérez said the success of three of his children who attend charter schools motivates him to give similar opportunities to others.
Pérez will not be involved in the school’s day-to-day management and operations—Mater Academy Charter School will manage SLAM along with several other Miami-area charter schools.
Many say Pérez is a questionable spokesperson for charter schools, and the choice has sparked controversy. Even his fans admit he’s not the best role model. His critics call him “a flamboyant misogynist.” His latest singles include lines like “I just want to feel this moment,” and “We can get started for life (tonight).” His videos also frequently include scantily-clad dancers.
But Perez tells a compelling story. Raised by a Cuban refugee in the inner city neighborhood Little Havana, he said he and his mother struggled finding opportunities for good education. He explains in a song, “I went from eviction to food stamps, To bagging work, wet & damp.” Perez said he wants to give back to the community, to give disadvantaged children the opportunities he lacked. He said charter schools “are fundamentally about freedom, and freedom is what America is all about.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech at the same conference encouraging charter school teachers: “This work is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and passion.” He said “high-performing charters have irrefutably demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels.” But he also noted the balance between charter schools and traditional public schools is not a zero-sum game: “We want our students to succeed, but we also want the students down the street to succeed.”