This year’s Summer Fest West, held Aug. 26 at Marshall High School Campus Park, 3300 W. Jackson Blvd., had more seating for seniors, more musical acts and more backpacks to give away than ever even though conflict in Springfield has the state of public school funding in limbo. 

The event — hosted by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and his wife, state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin (10th) — kicked off with a parade that started near the intersection of Laramie Avenue and Washington Boulevard and continued east on Washington Blvd. before ending at the park. Marchers included representatives from Fathers Who Care, UIC College Prep and the Noble Network of Charter Schools, among other entities. 

“The purpose of the event is to encourage our youth and entice our youth to go back to school,” said Conyers-Ervin. 

Lavonda Scott, a long-time 28th Ward resident, has been volunteering for the festival’s backpack giveaway for the past six years. She said that this year, festival organizers were giving away 1,500 backpacks to K-12 students from all over the city. 

 “As long as they’re here and children are present, we’ll be able to give them [backpacks] whether they’re from the 28th Ward or not,” Scott said.

But despite the festivities, the state of public school funding was still in the minds of some of the festival participants and organizers. 

William Jones, an instructor at Mashall High School, was on hand to recruit students. The school is a neighborhood high school, so anyone who lives within its attendance area is eligible to enroll. Jones said that key is to ensure that as many students that can enroll do.

“Kids move, and we don’t have their addresses or phone numbers,” he said.

Jones touted the school’s culinary arts and horticulture programs, which have been in place for the past few years, as well Junior ROTC program. 

When asked about how the most recent CPS budget affected Marshall, he said that it hurt them – though he hoped it wouldn’t stay that way. The budget is based on a number of students expected to enroll, and it gets adjusted a few weeks after the school starts based on how many students actually do enroll and stay enrolled.

“Just like every other school, we had to cut people,” Jones said. “We won’t know [the effects] until the school starts. Hopefully, we’ll have enough students to bring people back.”

At the same time, a larger uncertainty remains. As of the print deadline, the Illinois House of Representatives hasn’t taken any action on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto, which cut how much state funding CPS would get. The House can either override it, approve it or do nothing, which would automatically veto the entire bill, leaving all Illinois public schools without any state funding whatsoever.

On Aug. 24, the Associated Press reported that House Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise that could allow the override to move forward. They are expected to hash out the details on Aug. 27, and the House is expected to hold an override vote on Aug. 28.

Conyears-Ervin told this newspaper that she wasn’t sure what the compromise entailed, but she was hoping that the override will go through.

“I am eager to finally override the Governor’s veto and provide [funding] for the Chicago public schools,” she said.


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...