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.

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.

row of lockers
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

School districts are due to receive state funds Aug. 10th, but that can't happen until lawmakers either override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of Senate Bill 1 or come up with some other plan he will sign.

ov. Bruce Rauner held a press conference to demand Democrats send him SB1. He was flanked by Republican lawmakers.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Schools are set to receive payment from the state in just three days, but that can’t happen until the Illinois legislature approves a new “evidence-based” funding model.

State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed parts of the Democratic education funding overhaul known as Senate Bill 1. He used his Constitutional power to make recommendations for changes in the legislation, saying he wanted to stop a "bailout" of Chicago schools. But Democrats accuse him of tacking right and waging an "assault" on public education.

Ten minutes before Gov. Bruce Rauner's scheduled press conference announcing his amendatory veto of SB1, Sen. Andy Manar and Rep. Will Davis — Democrats who sponsor the school funding legislation — reiterate their desire to negotiate.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With schools set to open in just a few weeks, Illinois still doesn't have any way to send money to schools. K-12 funding has become the latest partisan battleground at the statehouse, and yesterday, one procedural misstep may have inadvertently made the gridlock even worse.

Bruce Rauner
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

"Chicago bailout" is the tag Gov. Bruce Rauner and other Republicans pinned on Senate Bill 1, the new school funding plan approved by the General Assembly. So when Democrats finally sent him the bill, Rauner wasted no time cutting portions that help Chicago Public Schools.

State Sen. Andy Manar at podium
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The future of state funding for Illinois schools is still up in the air Monday afternoon. The fight over Senate Bill 1 — legislation that would overhaul the way Illinois supports k-12 schools — has such high stakes and such slim vote margins that it has turned into a parliamentary chess game. Now, the next move belongs to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

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

Despite Governor Bruce Rauner calling the Democrat-controlled Legislature into special session to resolve the issue of school funding, there is still no agreement on funding for Chicago Public Schools.  Also, the next gubernatorial race is shaping up to be the most expensive in state history; we'll look at the potential money involved.  Joining Sean Crawford in the studio is IPR Education Reporter Dusty Rhodes, UIS Professor Emeritus Kent Redfield, and Law360 Springfield Reporter Hannah Meisel.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)

Gov. Bruce Rauner has launched a website to show that most school districts stand to gain more state funding under his plan than under the Democrats' plan. How he calculated those numbers is a question reporters have asked repeatedly. We turned to the state board of education for answers.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling lawmakers back from their summer vacation to deal with a new school funding plan in special session starting Wednesday. The issue has turned into a showdown between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature, with the fate of k-12 school children in the balance.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, flanked by Auburn superintendent Darren Root, State Representatives Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) and Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Leland Grove), demands SB1 by Monday at noon.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Monday at high noon — That's the deadline Gov. Bruce Rauner has given Democrats to send the school funding bill to his desk. The new state budget requires this revamped funding formula, but Rauner plans to veto certain parts of the plan.

He promises every school district -- except Chicago -- lots more money once he gets to veto portions of the Democrats' bill.

graduation ceremony
WOSU Public Media / flickr

Adults in Illinois who failed to graduate from high school still can earn a General Educational Development certificate, also known as a G-E-D.  But legislation approved by the General Assembly would provide what some consider to be a better alternative. 

Mason jar with coins in bottom.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The new state budget will fund Illinois colleges and universities at the level of funding they received in 2015 — minus 10 percent. But there’s one area of higher education that got a boost.  

Rauner at podium
@GovRauner / Facebook

Lawmakers approved a state budget more than a week ago. But the education portion remains uncertain. For the money to flow, Democrats added a provision that requires enactment of a new school funding plan. Democrats have passed such a plan through both chambers, but Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, says he’ll veto parts of it.

Student carrying school flag in gym
Seaton Township High School District 40

The shakeup in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office seems to signal a tougher stance on school funding. The state spending plan passed by the General Assembly requires adoption of a new funding formula, but Rauner has promised to veto the only school formula plan that got legislative approval. This standoff might make the lawsuit filed by 21 school superintendents more relevant.

 

The lawsuit, filed in April, demands that Illinois honor its constitutional obligation to provide a high quality education for all students.

In a maneuver some state lawmakers call a "booby trap," the spending plan approved last week says Illinois can't appropriate money for schools unless a new funding formula also wins approval. It ties K-12 dollars to something known as the "evidence-based model."

Both political parties endorse this model, which is based on each district's demographics. The Democrats' version has passed the House and the Senate; they haven't sent it to Gov. Bruce Rauner, however, because he has promised to veto it.

Courtesy of Amanda Vinicky / WTTW

Yesterday's controversial override vote that increased taxes was delayed by about two hours when the capitol was put on lockdown, due to reports of a woman throwing or spilling an unknown substance near the governor’s office and other locations. Reporter Dusty Rhodes knows the woman, and spoke with a lobbyist who witnessed her detention.

Press conference at capitol
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than a dozen school leaders from across Illinois gathered at the state capitol today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools. They held signs and banners saying “thank you,” but gratitude wasn’t their only motive.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If Illinois lawmakers fail to enact a budget, state universities could potentially lose as much as $4 billion in federal funds.

That's according to Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. He says the Higher Learning Commission has threatened to pull some schools' accreditation — a move that would cause serious ripple effects.

 

classroom desks
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

On Sunday, House Speaker Michael Madigan issued three demands for budget negotiations, and one of them was for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 — a massive overhaul to the state’s school funding structure. But he also said he was open to changes in that bill. Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes gives us a refresher course on what those changes might be.

 

"Upstate/Downstate"

If you had to place a bet on where student test scores have plummeted over the past decade and a half, where would you put your money? Chicago Public Schools? Galesburg? Urbana? A new study on student achievement in Illinois shows some surprising results.

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