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.

The fate of school funding reform in Illinois hinges on downstate sentiment about Chicago Public Schools, and legislators' grasp of a complex, new formula. The governor has already pledged to veto the legislation. And now, the battle has State Sen. Andy Manar accusing Education Secretary Beth Purvis of lying.

Kankakee Community College

The ongoing budget impasse has been particularly difficult for Illinois' institutions of higher education, which have received a mere fraction of their usual state funds. Community colleges depend on the state to supply 30 percent of their overall budget, but that formula has evaporated over the past two years.

 

John Avendano is the president of Kankakee Community College, but he's also president of the Presidents Council — the group made up of all Illinois community college presidents. He spoke with our Education Desk reporter about the special challenges these schools face.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Will Illinois lawmakers actually pass a new school funding plan? We hear from three longtime education advocates (the nice word for lobbyists) who have been influencing reps and senators for years.

 

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican, says he has been a member of at least nine caucuses.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois lawmakers last week approved a sweeping overhaul of the way the state funds public schools. Mainly Democrats supported the plan, but the top Republican co-sponsor chose not to vote at all.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Public schools would have to provide free feminine hygiene products in girls' bathrooms under legislation approved in the Illinois General Assembly.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

As budget negotiations continue, one big piece of the puzzle is school funding. We check in with our Education Desk reporter to see which bills are on the table, what they would do, why some “news” outlets say districts would lose money, and whether there’s any chance a bill will pass.

 

Davis chatting with advocates
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers of both parties, and even Gov. Bruce Rauner, agree that Illinois doesn't fund schools in an equitable manner. But with the legislative session scheduled to end on May 31, they still can't agree on exactly how to fix it.

 

One plan earned bipartisan approval in a House committee today, clearing a procedural hurdle that positions it for possible speedy passage.

 

Davis and Pritchard
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

It can be tough to find a bipartisan effort on any substantive issue at the capitol. But State Representatives Will Davis (a Democrat) and Bob Pritchard (a Republican) are still co-sponsoring House Bill 2808, designed to make school funding more equitable. These two lawmakers were both members of Governor Bruce Rauner's School Funding Reform Commission. That was a bipartisan, bicameral group that spent six months studying Illinois school funding issues and creating a framework for how to fix it. ​​​Last night, they sat down for an impromptu chat about their legislation, and why it keeps changing, with our education desk reporter, Dusty Rhodes.

 

 

Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar, of Bunker Hill, is accusing Gov. Bruce Rauner of trying to kill his school funding legislation. He says the administration fed erroneous information to a Republican operative's website.

The story in question appears in the Kankakee Times, one of a dozen community news organs created by Dan Proft. Proft runs a political action committee supported by Rauner.

ilga.gov

Two school funding plans progressed in the Illinois legislature Wednesday. A plan sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar was approved in the Senate, while in the House, a very similar plan sponsored by Rep. Will Davis made it through committee. Does that mean lawmakers may have finally found a way to cure the state's infamously unfair school funding structure?

Dashawn Julion (center) poses with his mother, Leisha Julion, and his 13-year-old brother Larry at the Black Congratulatory ceremony.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Commencement ceremonies took place on many college campuses this past weekend, including the University of Illinois. Our Education Desk reporter takes us inside one that's different from all the others — the Black Congratulatory ceremony at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Spiro Bolos

Too often, when I report on the school funding debate that has been going on in our state capitol for the past several years, I get bogged down in numbers — school district numbers, dollar amounts, bill and amendment numbers assigned to various reform plans, vote numbers tallying up support for each one.

This story, however, is about school funding without numbers.

Daisy Contreras/NPRIllinois

The faculty will be back in class today for the start of finals week. The agreement was reached after long negotiations over the weekend including 16 hours Sunday.  Details won’t be released until a ratification vote later.

Courtesy of Senate staff

The question of how to fund Illinois schools has become one of the most urgent — yet complicated —issues facing lawmakers.

UIS Chancellor Susan Koch
University of Illinois Springfield

It's cold and rainy today, but that hasn't deterred the University of Illinois Springfield faculty from the picket line. Tenured and tenure-track professors seeking a contract are in the third day of a strike. But there may be signs of progress.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Students are being told to continue reporting to class at the University of Illinois Springfield, despite the fact that the faculty is on strike. More than 160 tenured and tenure-track professors represented by University Professionals of Illinois have been negotiating almost two years in an effort to get personnel policies included in a contract.

 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

I recently spent an evening at Springfield’s Dubois Elementary, with a group of tutors focused on helping the school’s youngest students — kindergarten through second grade.

But in this particular tutoring arrangement, everyone is learning. The older kids are in a program called Our American Voice, designed to bring civics lessons back to the younger grades. Students get an instructional course in citizenship, and then create their own community service project.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

It's hard to find an issue that unites Illinois lawmakers, yet members of both political parties and Governor Bruce Rauner have consistently agreed the state needs to change the way it funds schools. Now, with the filing of two separate legislative plans, that once-unison chorus sounds out of tune. State Senator Jason Barickman is the author of one of those plans. Our education desk reporter Dusty Rhodes quizzed him on how he intends to fix the flaws in the state's current funding formula.

UPDATED: The dollars-and-cents details of a new school funding plan were revealed yesterday. Some districts would gain just a few cents per pupil; others would gain more than a thousand dollars per child.

Only a few schools would lose money under the new plan proposed by Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington. But lawmakers will still have plenty to fight about when they see how few cents some districts gain compared to others.

The Flowing Font Fight

Apr 24, 2017
Dusty Rhodes

Should the State of Illinois require public schools to teach students how to write in cursive? That question is at the center of a legislative measure generating more controversy than you might expect for a bill that doesn’t even involve money.

One of the few issues uniting Illinois lawmakers from both parties is the desire to revamp the way our state funds schools. That's because the current system has made Illinois schools the most inequitable in the country. A group of 20 lawmakers recently spent six months drafting a framework for a different plan. It would ensure that no school loses money, and all additional funds would be distributed through a new evidence-based model. A trio of commission members — two Democrats and a Republican — united behind one version of this plan. But last week, Republican Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington filed a significantly different version. He spoke with our education reporter, Dusty Rhodes, who began by asking him about how he would calculate the hold-harmless provision.

 

Chalkboard with mathmatic formulas
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

School funding is one of the key issues in the General Assembly’s budget debate. Everyone agrees the current funding formula needs to change, but there’s less agreement on how to fix it. A bipartisan effort is poised for a floor vote in the House, but in the Senate, compromise appears to have fallen apart.

Campus entry signage
University of Illinois Springfield

Professors at the University of Illinois Springfield could go on strike. That’s the result of a vote this week by United Faculty, a chapter of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Kristi Barnwell, a history professor and vice-president of the faculty union, says the vote doesn’t necessarily mean they will strike.

 

“We’re still hoping that we don’t have to, and that the university’s administration will make some meaningful progress in negotiations at our next bargaining session," she says. "But we needed to let them know that the option is on the table, and our membership is ready if it comes down to that.”

 

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois lawmakers from both political parties seem to be gathering behind a new school funding plan called the "evidence-based model." Today, Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, announced that he plans to file his own version in the Senate.

White board with, "School Funding" written on it
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With multiple legislative proposals, a task force and a lawsuit all aimed at overhauling the way Illinois funds its schools, it’s hard to predict what might happen. But in this chat that aired on Tuesday, our Capitol Bureau reporter Brian Mackey makes me try.  

Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers have been trying to change the way Illinois funds schools for years now, with no luck. But a new plan called the Evidence Based Model seems to be gaining momentum.

Art Ryan, superintendent of Cahokia schools, addresses media with other superintendents who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the State Board of Education.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A Chicago law firm representing a group of mostly rural school superintendents sued the state of Illinois today. They're asking Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state board of education to come up with a funding formula that would help schools meet the state's learning standards.

The 17 superintendents say that — between Illinois' notoriously inequitable funding formula and years of reduced state spending — this lawsuit is their last resort.

Barbara Wheeler headshot
Illinois General Assembly

In a way, it's just one little box on a lengthy college application form. But for many would-be students, that box is more of a stop sign if the instructions say "check here if you have a criminal record." State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Republican from Crystal Lake, wants to change that. She sat down with our Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes to explain why.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Last week, when Southern Illinois University revealed that its main campus in Carbondale needs to borrow money from its Edwardsville location, the news seemed shocking. Who knew SIU was in such dire straits? It wasn’t the kind of news any school would want to broadcast.

Will Davis headshot
Illinois General Assembly

The effort to overhaul the way Illinois funds public schools has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and yesterday, the latest plan got the green light to be heard by the House of Representatives. Sponsored by State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), the plan cleared committee on a 15-1-0 vote, marking the first time in recent history that a school funding plan got bipartisan support.

That's despite the fact that Davis chose not to provide a spreadsheet showing how much money each district would get.

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