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.

Courtesy of Jim Melvin

Jim Melvin is finally fulfilling a lifelong dream. He's a rookie in the classroom, but a seasoned veteran at real life. At age 59, he's in his first full year of teaching social studies at V.I.T. High School -- a small school near Macomb, Illinois.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Kimberly Thomas is the reigning Illinois Teacher of the Year. The title doesn’t come with a satin sash and a tiara, but you might think it does once you get a taste of Thomas’s extreme effervescence. This Peoria math teacher has a lot more going for her than just bubbles and fizz, but you have to get you a sip of that first.

Courtesy of Anderson, Hampton

A new school discipline law goes into effect this week, setting strict limits on the reasons principals can use to suspend or expel students. The measure was the culmination of a years-long effort by young adults in Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, or VOYCE. They called it the “Campaign for Common Sense Discipline,” and the goal was to put an end to punitive policies that made kids miss class due to infractions like chewing gum or violating dress code.

 

Quentin Anderson, just 28 years old himself, directed the lobbying effort. And every time I heard him speak to lawmakers, he told the same personal story.

When it comes to school funding, Illinois has been ranked as the worst in the country because our system is so inequitable. Basically that means some schools offer a lot of advanced placement courses and have fancy science labs and swimming pools, while other schools can’t afford new math books and have to cut their band programs. The fight over how to fix this has gone on for years.

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he was creating a bipartisan commission to change the way Illinois funds public schools. That commission held its third meeting yesterday. But there’s another commission tackling the same topic, and its founder claims her group is getting more work done.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Officials with the Teacher’s Retirement System made a decision today that could add another $421 million to Illinois’ annual pension costs.

 

A law going into effect next month will ban zero-tolerance policies in schools and turn suspension and expulsion into disciplinary options of last resort. Districts throughout the state are taking different approaches to prepare for the changes.

Karen Bridges

Forty years ago, during the summer of 1976, school officials in Illinois’ capital city were in federal court, arguing about how to desegregate Springfield schools. Roger Bridges was one of more than a hundred plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but he emerged as one of the architects of the desegregation plan ultimately chosen by Judge James Ackerman. The plan is still in use today.

As families get set to send their kids back to school, we asked Bridges to remind us why some of our youngest students will be taking the bus.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner established a bipartisan commission to find a way to fix the state's method of funding schools. Beth Purvis is the governor's Secretary of Education and she chairs this new group. When she opened the first meeting with scores of lawmakers and stakeholders in both Chicago and Springfield, Purvis spoke bluntly by reminding participants why Illinois needs a new plan.

“We are ranked 50th, or received an F, by almost everyone who ranked us in terms of the difference between what we spend on our students who live in our, what we consider our wealthiest districts, and those who are in our poorest," she said.

Carolyn Tiry

 

In 1983, the principal at Hazelwood East High School in suburban St. Louis censored two stories from the student newspaper. One concerned divorce, the other was about teen pregnancy. The students sued, claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated. Their case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices decided that school administrators had the right to exercise “prior restraint” in school-sponsored forums like student newspapers and assemblies.

A generation of student journalists have been hemmed in by that ruling. But last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that frees high school students from this restriction.

Jim Broadway publishes the Illinois School News Service. It’s a subscription-based online newsletter for educators, documenting policy as it’s crafted and implemented at the state level. He recently wrote a roundup of education bills that came before the 99th General Assembly, and talked to Illinois Edition about some that became law, and some that didn’t.

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

Comptroller Leslie Munger says Illinois is spending itself into what could be a $10 billion dollar pile of unpaid bills by the end of the year. On top of that, an nonpartisan state budget forecaster is predicting an $8 billion dollar deficit for this year alone.

Bruce Rauner
brucerauner.com

When Gov. Bruce Rauner announced today a new legislative commission to fix Illinois’ school funding formula, the first question from reporters attending the press conference was: Why should we get excited about yet another task force? Groups of lawmakers have been trying to change the state’s notoriously inequitable system for at least the past 10 years. The difference this time, Rauner said, is that the situation has become critical.

Courtesy of IBHE

During the recent state budget impasse, Illinois colleges and universities have been forced to scrape by without state funding, except for stop gap money designed to keep them open through the fall semester. But that may not satisfy accreditation agencies. James Applegate, director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, says the Higher Learning Commission may just home in on the fact that Illinois schools are missing what schools in other states have: a solid budget.

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

A state labor board declined to rush the Rauner administration's request for a speedy decision on a dispute with state employees, while the AFSCME unions seems to be readying for a strike. We'll also talk about what last week's stopgap budget means for schools and universities.

Courtesy of Stand for Children Illinois

A big chunk of Illinois school funding is distributed through a complicated formula known as the "poverty grant." We asked a numbers interpreter to untangle it for us.

uis.edu

MAP grants — the monetary award program that helps low-income students pay college tuition — will receive some funding through the stopgap measure approved last week by Illinois lawmakers. But a new survey conducted by the agency that administers the MAP program shows the detrimental effects the state budget impasse has already had on those students’ enrollment decisions. 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Gov. Bruce Rauner has always said schools are his top priority. Last year, he vetoed the budget except for schools. In the stopgap plan negotiated by leaders this week, most services get only six months of funding, but pre-kindergarten through high school grades get a full year. That includes an increase of more than $330 million.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

About a dozen college and university officials gathered at the capitol today to remind lawmakers of the desperate situation schools find themselves in. Most have gone for a year with less than a third of expected state funds. The coalition included presidents of institutions as enormous as the University of Illinois System and as small as the private liberal arts school Illinois College in Jacksonville, whose president warned that state funds need to come quickly.

This past year has been rough, thanks to not having a state budget. But at least Illinois has funded schools.  For the upcoming fiscal year, that's not guaranteed.

 

You might think all we have to do is turn the money faucet back on. But it’s not that easy.

Courtesy of WIU

The board of trustees at Western Illinois University recently voted to eliminate four majors -- African American Studies, Women's Studies, philosophy and religious studies. The vote came on a recommendation from the school's interim provost, Kathleen Neumann, who says money had nothing to do with the decision.

 

Courtesy of Rock Island Schools

Thanks to the ongoing budget impasse, school districts around Illinois are scrambling to figure out how to open without state funding. Schools that operate year-round will be the first to face their day of reckoning.

Liz Bieze

This is a follow-up to a story we aired back in April, about how the state budget impasse was affecting high school seniors trying to decide where to go to college. In the course of reporting, we met Liz Bieze, one of two counselors at Sullivan High School at Rogers Park in Chicago.

 

Here's what she said then:

 

“I mean I literally, right before you called, was finishing up helping a student draft an email to a financial aid office to appeal her award letter, and she’s our valedictorian of our class. So when your valedictorian, with a 28 ACT, can’t afford to go to school, that’s a big problem.”

Higher education has been devastated by the state's year-long budget impasse, which has cut university funding by more than 70 percent. They went without any state funding until April, when lawmakers approved a stopgap funding measure to give colleges and universities $600 million to sustain them through summer.

 

For now, the future doesn't look much brighter. 

Dusty Rhodes

Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis is pushing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to make sure schools open on time this fall.

The Republican has called for sending an extra $100 million to schools — the one area of the budget he has not held up in order to pass his legislative agenda.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Purvis deflected questions about Rauner’s remarks earlier this week in which he described some Chicago Public Schools as “crumbling prisons.”

Steve Buissinne

If there’s one thing Illinois lawmakers agree on, it’s that they want schools to open on time in the fall. Yet the Illinois legislature adjourned last week with no school budget in place. That’s because when you ask lawmakers how to pay the teachers and principals and utility bills, they will bicker about it all session long. Their disagreement has left educators across the state saying W-T-F. And you know what that stands for... 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois legislature adjourned last night with no budget for education -- at any level.

John Cullerton
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

As the clock ticks down on the General Assembly, lawmakers are struggling to avoid the debacle of public schools not opening in the fall. But they’re having a tough time coming up with a school funding formula that pleases both parties.

A new plan to fund public schools was filed yesterday. Its goal is to ensure that all school districts have 90 percent of the resources needed to provide a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes "adequate" education. It would also have the state pay teacher pensions in the Chicago Public School District (the state already pays pensions in all other districts).

For more than a year, officials at the University of Illinois have been creating and polishing up a strategic plan meant to guide the institution for the next decade. And just as it was about to be approved last week, a student spoke up asking for a significant change.

“First, I really should say, I really don’t like the word diversity, and I don’t think we need to diversify.”


Shannon O'Brien / University of Illinois at Springfield

It’s not often that students get to shape university policy, but that’s just what happened today at a meeting of the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees. Thanks to a change in the university’s strategic plan proposed by a student member of the U-I Board of Trustees, University of Illinois officials are being encouraged to think about race in a new way.

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