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.

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.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School districts had a year to implement a state law that banned zero-tolerance policies and emphasized restorative justice practices. We check back in with five districts we visited  in the summer of 2016 to see how school discipline has changed.

Slide outside classroom window
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Just when you thought the state’s controversial battle over school funding was over, it turns out there’s a few technicalities that need to be addressed.

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With teachers devoting much of their time to preparing students for standardized tests, penmanship has disappeared from the curriculum in many schools. A new state law approved yesterday will bring it back, to ensure elementary students get instruction in cursive writing — sometime between 2nd and 5th grade.

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Hillside) filed the measure the same day lawmakers approved his resolution on zombie apocalypse preparedness.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Let's say you've got a student loan and you get laid off your job. Your loan servicer suggests something called "forebearance" — the chance to delay payments for a year or two. Sounds tempting, but it ends up costing you more money.

That's one of the many tricky facts loan servicers will have to disclose in Illinois, where lawmakers yesterday approved stringent regulations on student loan service companies.

Jessica Handy works as a lobbyist for an education advocacy organization called Stand for Children. I’ve aired interviews with her in the past because she’s got a knack for explaining complex numbers. So to her, the most critical part of this story is the numbers. Specifically, some very long odds.

Al Bowman midshot in tree-lined area
Illinois State University

Al Bowman, a former president of Illinois State University, has been tapped to lead the Illinois Board of Higher Education. His appointment comes as higher education institutions have seen their budgets slashed and enrollment decline, so it’s hard to know whether to congratulate him.

“You know, I’ve been getting that from people,” Bowman laughs.

He is going into his new job eyes wide open. Illinois ranked number two in the nation for net loss of college students.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

Want to know how your kid's school is performing compared to others? The Illinois State Board of Education today released graduation rates, test scores, and other metrics through its online school report cards. Results show that standardized test scores, graduation rates and participation in advanced placement courses are all inching upwards.

Google Maps

Derek Hutchins is the superintendent of Crab Orchard Schools. It's a district of only 530 students, east of the town of Marion, in southern Illinois.  So he was surprised last week when his tech support guy showed up in his office with big news.

Facebook ad
Facebook

An Illinois lawmaker is calling on Facebook to ensure political ads are fundamentally factual, after learning the social media giant has no such guidelines.

frowning piggy bank
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The debate over school funding dominated much of the legislative session, and concluded with a compromise plan designed to send more state funds to the neediest districts. But so far, those districts haven't gotten any extra funds.

Screenshot of ad from Citizens For Rauner, Inc.

A television commercial​ now airing for Gov. Bruce Rauner touts the school funding reform legislation he signed into law in August. But the campaign spot is somewhat misleading.

The ad begins: “It's been called nothing short of a miracle.”

File FAFSA ASAP!

Oct 3, 2017
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Parents of college students and high school seniors headed that way should be busy filling out financial aid paperwork — if they haven’t already.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as the FAFSA) determines eligibility for all financial aid, including Illinois’ grants for lower-income students.

The old FAFSA application period opened on Jan. 1, and you couldn't complete the form until you'd filed your taxes. But as of last year, the federal government decided to accept “prior prior” year’s taxes,

classroom
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois’ new school funding plan — approved in August and hailed as a historic change — relies on the legislature to give every school the same state aid it got last year, plus push another $350 million through a new formula. That $350 million is crucial because it’s the part designed to address the inequity that has plagued Illinois schools for decades.

 

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Democrat from Shorewood, wants to make sure lawmakers don't skip that step.

Graduates taking selfie
College of DuPage

Illinois ranks second highest in the nation for one very dubious distinction: Losing high school graduates to out-of-state colleges.

screen shot of Purvis on Kern Family Foundation website
Kern Family Foundation

Shortly after Illinois lawmakers approved a new school funding plan, the state's top education official announced she was leaving to work for a national non-profit. Today is her first day on her new job.

 

Beth Purvis has joined the Kern Family Foundation, a Wisconsin-based philanthropy group that has given at least half a million dollars to Gov. Scott Walker and legislative candidates who support school vouchers.

Zimmerman with students
Monticello CUSD 25

One promise heard repeatedly during debate over the Illinois’ new school funding plan was "no red numbers," meaning any legislation that would make a district lose money was dead on arrival. Last month, in a rare bipartisan compromise, lawmakers approved a new plan that contained “hold-harmless” protection.

State Sen. Andy Manar shepherds historic school funding reform through the legislature after years of failed attempts.

State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois schools will soon resume receiving state funding, after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bipartisan compromise that passed the House and Senate earlier in the week.

BRIAN MACKEY / NPR ILLINOIS | 91.9 UIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner took sort of a victory lap visiting a Catholic school, a traditional public school and a charter school to celebrate the Illinois General Assembly's approval of a historic school funding overhaul.

Kimberly Lightford, Will Davis, and Andy Manar
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois legislature on Tuesday approved a major, bipartisan overhaul of the way Illinois funds public education.

Illinois' current school funding formula dates back to 1997. And efforts to replace it with something more logical, more fair, and more equitable? To hear lawmakers tell it, those also date back almost 20 years.

Vote tabluation board in Illinois House.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

It took three different votes, but Illinois may finally be getting the new school funding formula lawmakers have been working on for the past few years. The state House of Representatives yesterday approved a new evidence-based school funding plan. It's a compromise, containing most of the plan Democrats proposed months ago, plus a new $75 million program that would provide tax credits to organizations offering private school scholarships.

Teachers unions criticized that provision.

But Representative Bob Pritchard, a Republican from Hinckley, says this school funding reform measure is one of the best things the Illinois House has done.

classroom
VictorBjorkund / Flickr

Illinois' legislative leaders met at the statehouse Sunday to draft what they hope will be the final touches on a school funding compromise. 

classroom
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Senate Bill 1 was supposed to help Illinois cure its chronic case of inequitable school funding. The Democrat-sponsored measure has become a partisan controversy that's now preventing state money from being sent to schools.

Legislative leaders yesterday announced they'd achieved compromise, but reports that the deal includes a $75 million tax-credit program for private school tuition scholarships is drawing criticism.

seated students in graduation gowns and caps
Rauner College Prep

Schools across Illinois are still waiting for state money while legislative leaders try to agree on a new funding formula. Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed large portions of a Democrat-sponsored plan, saying it was too generous to Chicago Public Schools. The list of educators lobbying for lawmakers to override that veto includes some surprising names.

State of Illinois drawn on chalkboard
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a dozen bills late Friday. Among them: House Bill 3211, a measure that would help low-income students qualify for federal SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Statewide, that amounts to about 40,000 low-income students, says State Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), who sponsored the measure.

Illinois House floor
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School funding stalled a while longer yesterday as Illinois lawmakers instead cast symbolic votes. Democrats took the changes Gov. Bruce Rauner made to their evidence-based model, turned it into a replica bill, then ran it for a vote. It was an exercise designed to prove that Rauner couldn't get enough support to uphold his plan.

Tony Sanders with U-46 students
courtesy of U-46

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been drumming up opposition to the Democrats' new school funding plan, known as Senate Bill 1, by touting how much more money each district would receive under his plan. He points to Elgin U-46, the state’s second largest school district, as the biggest winner: That northwest suburban district would gain about $15 million if lawmakers approve Rauner’s amendatory veto.

So that district's CEO, Tony Sanders, must be rooting for Rauner's plan, right?

 

Wrong.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois State Senate spent Sunday in session, where Senators voted 38 to 19 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the new school funding bill. The override wasn't a surprise, because this new evidence-based funding plan had originally cleared the Senate with a veto-proof majority. The House, however, represents a higher hurdle, where Democrats will need Republicans to vote with them. That vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

 

Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat who sponsored the measure, says he'd rather negotiate a compromise.

lockers with books inside
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Between a new state pension plan and Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the Democrats' school funding plan, some school districts would be in for a big hit in July 2020. The two changes would have a particularly significant impact on districts with high rates of teacher turnover and declining enrollment.

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