By TONIA HILL
Students at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E. 50th St., organized a protest march and poetry slam in light of the budget crisis facing schools in the Chicago Public School (CPS) district.
In observance of April being National Poetry Month, fourth grade teacher Kelly Lane, who was head of activities for the month, suggested having a school wide protest march and poetry slam. For the events students centered their work on the CPS budget crisis and unequal funding in the district.
Students along with teachers marched from the school to 51st Street, from 51st Street East to Lake Park Avenue, from Lake Park Avenue South to 53rd Street, from 53rd Street West to Dorchester Avenue, and back to the school where they convened for the poetry slam.
Sixth grader Grace Mumphery, who is a member of the school’s cheerleading team led chant calls for students as they marched outside. Also, Mumphery performed a poem alongside fellow sixth grader; Makiylah Fleming titled “CPS, What’s Happenin’?”
“My friend and I decided to make a poem together and it turned into rap,” Mumphery said, she added that with action they [students] can push for change in the district. She said the march helped to spread the message.
“We got together and we thought about what was most important to us,” Fleming said. “We talked about CPS funding and how they are not giving us enough money.”
Shoesmith Principal Sabrina Gates said, “Their voices [students] are seldom heard and this is a powerful way for them to learn about what citizens do and about civic engagement and how can you peacefully and productively protest for your rights.”
Students from kindergarten to sixth grade participated in the poetry slam. They used their poetry to express how the inequity in funding is affecting them and their education. Some students even called on Gov. Bruce Rauner and others lawmakers to close the gap and provide equal funding for all students.
Gates said last year was a bit tough in terms of budget cuts however, this year she said the school has what she referred to as “wiggle room” in comparison to the previous school year.
In response to concerns from members of the African-American and Hispanic communities, CPS returned $15 million to high poverty schools in the district that were chipped away, due to mid-year budget cuts resulting from a $46 million dollar freeze in school spending from Rauner.
Different amounts were cut from each school in the district from their original budget ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 in cuts.
The new dollar amount for cuts at Shoesmith is $43,011, according to a March 8 article in the Herald.
Gates said some relief was provided by Ald. Sophia King (4th) who she said gifted schools in the fourth ward with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds.
“$20, 000 for a school this size really helped us,” Gates said. “We were able to get a chrome book cart.”
Previously the school had just one chrome book cart for the whole building. Now the school has two carts for the first and second floors.
As the Shoesmith community gathered for the poetry slam two major court decisions came down from county courthouses on Friday afternoon.
A federal judge threw out the district’s civil rights lawsuit against the state.
Associate Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama denied CPS’ motion for Preliminary Injunction and ruled in favor of state’s motion to dismiss the suit.
CPS could re-file the lawsuit with an amended complaint.
The suit alleged that the state discriminates against CPS students, who make up 20 percent of Illinois public school students. The district claims it only received 15 percent of the money appropriated for education.
The group wants the state to provide equal funding for CPS students just as they do other schools in the state.
When the suit was filed, CPS officials said they may have to end the 2016-2017 school year on June 1, 20 days early if the state does not give the district more money. Following the ruling, Friday, April 28, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that schools will not close three weeks early.
Gates said there is no plan as of yet but the school has laid out deadlines for teachers to enter grades if school ended early.
In other district news, Former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on federal corruption charges.
Byrd – Bennett admitted to her role in directing more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to her former employer Supes Academy, in exchange for kickbacks.