Dusty Rhodes

Reporter / Education Desk

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014. But it's not her years of experience or her education that help her understand this beat. It's her sons -- "one homemade, one adopted" -- who have vastly different types of intelligence and vastly different learning styles. Between the two of them, she's experienced public, charter, Montessori and magnet schools, gifted, IEP and 504 accommodations, and uncountable band concerts, science fairs, basketball games, and parent/teacher conferences. It's the parent/teacher conferences that always make her cry.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

For the past 20 years, school funding in Illinois has relied heavily on property taxes, which means schools near prime commercial or residential areas thrive, while others struggle to get by. Since August, a bi-partisan, bi-cameral group of lawmakers has been meeting regularly to try to come up with a better way to fund public schools.

Courtesy of Sen. Karen McConnaughay

On Wednesday, state senators filed a package of bills designed to break the partisan logjam that's led to the state going more than 18 months without a budget. The first of those bills deals with changing the school funding formula, and the commission charged with accomplishing that task appears headed toward a compromise.

Courtesy of Illinois General Assembly

Flint, Michigan's discovery of lead-laced drinking water has inspired Illinois lawmakers to look for similar problems here. A measure approved by the General Assembly last night would require schools and child care centers to test for lead in water from drinking fountains and kitchen taps.

borken piggy bank on classroom desk
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The state’s ongoing budget impasse has hit community colleges particularly hard, with funds to these schools and the students who attend them drastically reduced. The Illinois Community College Board is distributing $3 million in emergency aid, divided among seven campuses.

Office of Sen. David Luechtefeld

A new law designed to relieve the statewide shortage of teachers and substitute teachers was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner today. The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Dave Luechtefeld, a Republican. He taught  history and government at Okawville High School for more than 30 years, so it’s hard to argue with him about what it takes to be an educator. That’s probably why the bill he sponsored passed unanimously in both chambers of the Illinois legislature.

Video monitors of commission meeting
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than any other state in the country, Illinois relies on property taxes to fund public schools. As a result, districts in prosperous areas can spend a lot more per student than districts in low-income or rural areas. A group of lawmakers charged with revamping this scheme has been meeting since summer, facing a deadline of February first. But the group isn’t moving fast enough for State Senator Andy Manar. He’s the leading Democrat on the commission. He’s also considering running for governor.

State Week logo (capitol dome)
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A year-end overview of 2016, in which Illinois finds itself in much the same situation as it was 12 months ago, but with an even deeper budget hole and increasingly dire straits for social services and higher education.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

In the ongoing budget grudge match between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratically-controlled legislature, one bright spot is that public schools have been spared. Rauner, in fact, has boasted that under his administration, general state aid for schools has been fully funded for the first time in years. But there’s a caveat to that claim.

A preliminary report on college enrollment in Illinois shows a decline at all sectors of higher education.

All three categories -- public universities, community colleges and private colleges — showed an overall drop in enrollment, according to a report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Illinois State University and the three University of Illinois campuses showed slight increases; all other public schools declined by an average of almost 3 percent compared to last year.   

Courtesy of Julie Posth

The ongoing budget impasse means that state funding for colleges and universities will run out Dec. 31. While some schools are fronting the money for students who get state assistance, a recent survey found that others are scooping up students' federal financial aid to fill in the gap. It's a little bit like opening your child's birthday card from grandma, and pocketing the cash.

The first year of teaching is a little bit like jumping into the ocean. You can practice in a swimming pool and pretend you’re in the ocean. You can sit on a boat and watch other people dive in. But until you do it yourself, there’s no way to know how the waves are going to feel or how you’ll fend off the jellyfish and sharks. Jeniece Baines is one of those brand new teachers.

She teaches reading and writing to 7th graders at Franklin Middle School in Champaign.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

For college students, December means cramming for final exams. Some schools try to help students keep studying by serving midnight breakfast in the dining halls. But at the University of Illinois, one student group puts their own twist on that tradition.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Students struggling to learn English have traditionally been regarded as a bit of a challenge in your standard public school. But in Urbana, these kids are valued for their ability to help their English-speaking peers learn a second language.

It’s done using mixed classrooms where the teachers speak only Spanish for as much as 90 percent of the day. That percentage ramps down as the kids get older. In the earliest grades, the English-speaking students may not even realize that they’re soaking up a new language.

Dave Heninzel

Patrick Dolan played a major role in shaping the relationship between public school teachers unions and administrators in school districts across the nation, and especially in Illinois. But if you’ve never heard of Patrick Dolan, don’t feel bad. Dolan did his work mainly behind the scenes, in meetings with teachers unions and school administrators. What made him remarkable was that he created peace between these often adversarial parties.

Parents and grandparents who want to lock in tuition rates for their offspring can enroll in College Illinois! The punctuation is part of the registered trademark.

 

But despite the clever branding, excitement about the plan seems to be waning, thanks to the ongoing state budget impasse.

Autumn trees on the University of Maine campus
Courtesy of the University of Maine

Illinois has long been number two in the nation for a rather dubious distinction -- the net out-migration of college students. Now there’s a new program targeting Illinois high school students who want to attend a state flagship university, even if it’s not in Illinois. The catch? You’re going to need to love flannel shirts, lobster, and maybe not come home for Thanksgiving.

group of undocumented students in Capitol
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

College students who don’t have a Social Security number can’t receive financial aid from public universities in Illinois. But a measure that would give schools the option to provide scholarships or waivers is getting a big push at the statehouse, thanks to the election of Donald Trump.

classroom desks
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

 

The stop-gap funding measure approved by lawmakers last spring left community colleges with just 27 percent of their usual state aid. That amount is almost gone. Community colleges in Illinois say they've cut frills, suspended travel, and even laid off teachers. Now they need state lawmakers to come through with funding.

That was the gist of a letter sent last week from the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents​ to the governor and legislative leaders.

 

If there's one thing that most educators agree on, it's that a school full of low-income students requires teachers to bring their A game if they want to close the achievement gap. But after years of studying high-poverty schools that succeed, Lynne Haeffele has come up with a short list of traits those successful schools share. Haefele directs the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, and she will be speaking tonight at a townhall-style event in Decatur. Haeffele has been studying “break the mold” schools -- high poverty, high performing schools -- to discover their magic formula.

 

 

Courtesy of AFSCME Local 31

If you were a soldier in World War II, a furlough was something to look forward to. It was a sanctioned leave of absence from your normal duties, a chance to relax and go have some fun. In today's economy, the word furlough has lost some of its luster. It still connotes time off, but without pay.

Tomorrow, Jeff Brownfield, who represents university civil service employees, will appear before the General Assembly's rules committee to ask lawmakers to approve a measure allowing state schools to require employees to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Courtesy of the University of Illinois

The University of Illinois is offering state lawmakers a deal: The school will meet several access and accountability benchmarks, if the state will pledge five years of stable funding.

Karen Walrond

Kelly Wickham Hurst spent about 20 years with Springfield School District 186. As guidance dean, she frequently took to social media to share stories of black students being treated unfairly, and her efforts to advocate on their behalf. Sprinkled in among those stories were hints that some colleagues resented her, like the time a teacher inadvertently flashed a text message over the classroom projector and students saw Hurst referenced by a derogatory term. So it was no surprise when she parted ways with the school district and started an initiative called Being Black At School.

L. Brian Stauffer / Illinois News Bureau

Colleges and universities have been starved for state funding through the ongoing budget impasse. The interim provost at the flagship campus of the University of Illinois recently presented faculty and staff with a blunt accounting of the school’s financial situation.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of a 25-member commission, and gave them six months to rewrite the state’s school funding formula. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) is one of 20 lawmakers on the bipartisan, bicameral commission. We asked him for an update on the commission's progress.

Illinois has applied to the federal government for a waiver that could bring Illinois not only a significant increase in Medicaid dollars, but also more flexibility for how those dollars are spent. We talked to two members of Gov. Bruce Rauner's cabinet -- Human Services Secretary James Dimas and George Sheldon, acting secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services -- about what this waiver would mean for the state.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Illinois U-S Senator Dick Durbin is pleading with school administrators to help prevent for-profit colleges from recruiting their students. His comments today came during a statewide meeting of school principals. 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If you haven’t submitted your student’s FAFSA, you need to do it immediately. But this year, it’s easier than ever to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. We talked to two experts about how students and families can get help filing this form and applying for college and financial aid: Jacqueline Moreno, managing director of college access initiatives at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, and Manuel Talavera, ISAC Corps coordinator.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform recently compared enrollment data of Illinois public colleges and universities against similar schools in six neighboring states. 

BlueRoomStream.com

When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, it represented something rare these days -- a new law with bipartisan support. That’s largely because it replaced No Child Left Behind, which was almost universally unpopular.

But writing regulations for the new law fell to the federal Department of Education -- the same agency that enforced No Child Left Behind. In a recent column for US News and World Report, Illinois superintendent Tony Smith complained the DOE was perpetuating the same practices in the new regulations.

Brent Clark, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Courtesy of IASA

When it comes to equity in school funding, Illinois ranks last among all 50 states. So over the summer, various groups of lawmakers have been meeting with stakeholders, trying to come up with a plan that will send state dollars to the school districts that genuinely need help. Brent Clark has been attending all those meetings.

Pages