Education Desk

Credit Dan LoGrasso / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

See the latest reports from NPR Illinois Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes. 

The NPR Illinois Education Desk is a community funded initiative to report on stories that impact you.  Stories on the state of education from K-12 to higher education written by Illinois and national journalists.

Funders include:

  • Anonymous Individual Donors
  • Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln
  • Hope Institute for Children and Families
  • Horace Mann Company
  • HSHS St. John's Hospital
  • Illinois Education Association
  • Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance
  • Illinois State Board of Education
  • UIS College of Education & Human Services

Ways to Connect

Hello! Money is on our minds in this mid-January edition of the Weekly Roundup.

Student loan default is a "crisis," report says

Rauner at gym with students
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

If you’ve seen Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign commercials, you might think the school funding issue was settled last summer. But as often happens with complex legislation, it was followed by a “trailer” bill cleaning up some technical language. Rauner decided to use his veto pen on that bill to lower the bar for private schools to qualify for a controversial tax credit program. Now, the Illinois State Board of Education is warning that “time is of the essence” for the General Assembly to uphold the trailer bill (Senate Bill 444). Without it, nearly 200 Illinois school districts will lose out on equitable funding.

By setting an enrollment target for special education, the Texas Education Agency violated federal law that ensures a free, appropriate public education to all students with disabilities. That's what the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday, after a 15-month investigation.

"The federal government must take bold action to address inequitable funding in our nation's public schools."

So begins a list of recommendations released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent, bipartisan agency created by Congress in 1957 to investigate civil rights complaints. Thursday's report comes after a lengthy investigation into how America's schools are funded and why so many that serve poor and minority students aren't getting the resources they say they need.

Copyright 2018 Indiana Public Radio. To see more, visit Indiana Public Radio.


A Louisiana teacher questioned whether the superintendent should receive a raise. Then, she was ushered out of a school board meeting and handcuffed.

Rauner announced his amendatory veto of SB1 standing alone.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner has boasted that fixing Illinois’ woefully inequitable school funding formula was his top accomplishment of the past year. But yesterday, he struck down a measure needed to implement that reform, by issuing an amendatory veto of a relatively short, simple “trailer” bill drafted to ensure that the 550-page reform plan squared up with the financial models lawmakers had approved.

Four former fraternity members were sentenced to jail time Monday in the 2013 hazing death of Chun Deng, a freshman at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Deng went to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania to finish pledging Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity. During the process, he was blindfolded, forced to wear a backpack weighted down with sand and then repeatedly tackled. He was knocked unconscious and later died at a hospital.

For the past several years, Illinois has been losing more college students than any state except New Jersey. Last year, as higher education was starved by the state budget impasse, that trend continued.

Overall, undergraduate enrollment decreased by 2 percent, with even steeper drops at public universities and community colleges. 

Schools defying this trend include those focused on medical professions, such as City Colleges of Chicago's Malcolm X campus. Mark Potter, the provost, said its home in the medical district makes it more attractive.

If you're like most Americans, you don't have a 529 college savings plan.

If you're like most Americans, you don't even know what it is.

All the more reason to keep reading.

That's because, with the new tax law, Republicans have made important changes to 529 plans that will affect millions of taxpayers, not just the ones saving for college. Before that news, though, a quick primer.

It's a new year and a new edition of our weekly education news roundup. welcome back!

DeVos plans to make it harder for defrauded students to get their money back

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep with a chance to expand your vocabulary. Wayne State University is promoting expressive words that could be used more. For example, there's couth.


OK, I've heard of uncouth, but...

Max Aaron may have been the 2011 men's junior figure-skating champion, 2013 U.S. national champion and 2015 Skate America champion. And sure, he's a top contender for a spot on the U.S. team in next month's Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

But all his grandfather wants to know is when he's going to machan a leibedik—Yiddish for "make a living."

Before he can do that, though, Aaron and many other elite athletes face a big hurdle: Finding time, between all that training — hours in the gym or pool or on the ice — to earn a college degree.

Forty-three of the largest public universities in the U.S. do not track student suicides, according to recent findings from The Associated Press, despite efforts to improve mental health on campus.

Gaspar Vila Mayans elementary school, in a low-income area in Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan, was one of the lucky ones.

Most of the building escaped damage, and the school was able to reopen just two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit in late September.

Once it was back up and running, the school quickly became a lifeline for the community, providing meals, activities and a sense of normalcy to families and their children.

Now, it's facing the possibility of closure for an entirely different reason – there aren't enough students to fill up its classrooms.

geographic chart of private school donations in Illinois
Illinois Department of Revenue

Beginning this week, people and corporations donating up to $1.3 million for private school scholarships can get a 75 percent credit toward their state income tax. This was a controversial but bipartisan concept, adopted last summer to help forge a compromise in a big overhaul of Illinois' school funding plan.

Such programs have taken off in other states, but it’s off to a slower start here.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Trying to change Obama-era rules, the Trump administration is one step closer to making it more difficult for students to have loan debt wiped clean in cases involving fraud by universities.

After another round of holidays, it's safe to assume, a lot of children have been diving into media more than usual. They may have received new electronic toys and gadgets or downloaded new apps and games. Managing all that bleeping and buzzing activity causes anxiety in many parents. Here's a roundup of some of the latest research, combined with some of our previous reporting, to help guide your decision-making around family screen use.

1. Globally, tech brings young people opportunity as well as risk

Rated PG: Profoundly Gifted

Jan 2, 2018

Stories about geniuses seem to fascinate us. From “Rain Man” and “Temple Grandin” to “House” and “S-town,” people with extraordinarily high intelligence make for great characters.

But what is life really like if you’re profoundly gifted, with an IQ of at least 160? And what’s it like living among the rest of us?

In the first installment of our series of audience-requested discussions, we examine what it means to be profoundly gifted.


On the NPR Ed Team, I am what you might call the grizzled veteran. I've seen education trends come and go and come again. And go again.

You get the idea.

In years past, around December, my teammates would often pause by my desk and ask: "What do you think we'll be covering next year?"

I've always found this a fun thought exercise, and, at some point, my editor suggested I jot down my answers and share them beyond our cubicles. And so, here are a few predictions for 2018.

The 10 Most Popular 'Fresh Air' Interviews Of 2017

Dec 29, 2017

In 2017, Fresh Air marked 30 years as a nationally syndicated, daily radio program by doing what it does best: more in-depth interviews.

Reporters and researchers are just starting to comb through the huge, rushed-to-passage tax package to figure out the implications.

One of the changes, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, which advocates for a "fair and sustainable" tax system, allows far more wealthy donors in 10 states to turn a profit through "donations" to private school scholarships.

The NPR series, "Take A Number," is exploring problems around the world — and the people who are trying to solve them — each through the lens of a single number.

Thirty-six percent.

That was the high school graduation rate for youth in foster care in Seattle and King County, Washington, in 2010.

It's not every year that a new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, becomes a household name, satirized on Saturday Night Live, never mind being the most unpopular member of a historically unpopular cabinet. But we live in interesting times and the nations' schools and colleges are no exception.

We cover education stories every day. But our most popular education news of the year came the day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. secretary of education; our story that day was read nearly 1 million times. DeVos is a school choice activist and billionaire Republican donor who was nominated by President Trump and approved by the Senate, despite the fierce objections of Senate Democrats, teachers unions and others.

Before you head out to celebrate the holidays and welcome the new year, here is our last weekly roundup of 2017.

Education under the new tax bill

Graduate students can breathe easier after learning that tuition waivers will remain tax-free, according to the final version of the House-Senate tax bill that passed Thursday.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit


Asia Gentry and Jessica Atterberry midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

If you’ve got a recent college graduate on your gift list, you might be interested in the results of a survey conducted by the finance firm Lend Edu. They asked people with student loans whether they’d rather get a holiday gift or an equal value payment toward that debt. We decided to take that poll for a tiny test drive with two recent college grads, who gave us plenty of food for thought.

Myles Mendoza midshot
Courtesy of Myles Mendoza

Many of us enjoy a party on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but for a few wealthy Illinois residents, Jan. 2 will be the day to celebrate. Beginning at 8 a.m., on a first-come, first-served basis, they can reserve a hefty tax credit in return for their donation to a private school.

It's been quite a year for for-profit education. "Continued collapse," is how Bryan Alexander, an educational futurist, describes it.

Here's a quick look back: