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.

A lawsuit filed this month in federal court aims to reverse policies adopted in many Illinois school districts that allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their identity. Palatine School District 211 is a defendant in the case, along with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Illinois’ school funding formula relies heavily on property taxes.

 

That leaves districts with low land values to make do with about six thousand dollars per student each year, while districts with thriving businesses can spend up to five times that amount.

 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that Illinois needs to change the formula, but they get caught on the question of how.

Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

The Illinois Senate approved a big change to the way Illinois funds schools yesterday, but that doesn't ensure anything will change.

Senators Kimberly Lightford and William Delgado debate in the corridor of the statehouse
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Should kids be allowed to skip standardized tests? In Illinois, children already have the right to refuse to take, for example, the PARCC test, associated with Common Core. Last year, the number of children who exercised that right amounted to 4.4 percent of eligible students statewide.

 

That may sound like an insignificant number, but consider this: The previous year, just one half of one percent of eligible students in Illinois opted out.

Ben Woloszyn

About eight years ago, Rebecca Ginsburg established the Education Justice Project -- a program that provides prisoners at the Danville Correctional Center with upper level college courses, workshops and other educational services. Ginsburg is a professor of education policy at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and today, she’s making her second visit to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion on criminal justice reform.

Alex McCray was in the news a lot last week — he was on TV, in the newspaper, and here on NPR Illinois -- because he had reached a settlement with the Williamsville School District expanding services for transgender students.

 

Here's a more extensive talk with McCray, and with David Root, superintendent of schools for the Williamsville-Sherman school district.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Gov. Bruce Rauner visited Auburn High School this morning. Rauner told students the main reason he was in their gymnasium was to thank their teachers for doing the most important job in the America. But he also promoted his plan to increase school funding statewide by about $50 million.

 

That plan would end up costing some needy districts millions of dollars, while adding funds to wealthier areas, because the money would be funneled through a formula widely described as the most inequitable in the nation.

Ed Yohnka

The bathroom Alex McCray used during his sophomore year at Williamsville High School was small, dark, subject to extreme temperature fluctuations, and inconveniently located. Near the end of his junior year, he asked school administrators to allow him to use the boys' bathroom. McCray, who was born female, has identified as male for several years.

Courtesy of Shannon Bumann

When a member of the military is laid to rest, the funeral traditionally concludes with three volley shots and the playing of "Taps" -- a bugle call that dates back to the Civil War. But finding a musician available to perform on short notice can be a challenge.

A  student in Woodhull, Illinois, about 20 miles north of Galesburg, inspired legislation that could make it easier. 

As the state budget stalemate drags through its 10th month, school funding has emerged as one of those pivotal issues that has the potential to coerce lawmakers into compromise. After all, neither party wants to be the reason that schools don’t open in the fall. But there’s a big battle brewing over the question of how we should fund schools.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

It’s official: Governor Bruce Rauner today signed legislation that provides a bit of relief to state colleges and universities desperate for funds. 

Illinois university presidents were stunned last night as the funding measure they thought would provide the first state funds in almost a year suddenly disappeared.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Two buzzwords you hear a lot in any discussion of school funding are adequacy and equity. Adequacy is the notion of having enough money, like Governor Bruce Rauner has offered in his proposal to increase funding. Equity is the notion of giving every district its fair share, like another measure pending in the Senate aims to do.

Illinois' community colleges have been struggling to make ends meet without a state budget for nearly a year. For some, the cutbacks they've had to make could mean the loss of federal dollars, too.

      

Community colleges use a combination of federal and state funds to provide adult education classes that help people pass the GED.

public domain

High school seniors who plan to go on to college should be finalizing their dorm and roommate choices about now.

But this year, those decisions aren’t about who brings the mini-fridge. With a total lack of  state funding for higher education, it’s about which schools and programs will be fiscally stable, or whether to go at all.

Gov. Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers got a look at Gov. Bruce Rauner's school funding proposal today. 

 

As promised, the governor's plan gives every district the full amount of state aid due under the current school funding formula. But that formula, which relies heavily on property taxes, has been called the most inequitable plan in the nation. 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed increased funding for elementary and secondary schools.  But Democrats don't want to add money to a formula they say is fundamentally inequitable. Instead, they're proposing a new way to calculate how much state aid flows to each school district.

ilga.gov

In some Illinois school districts, transgender students are allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, rather than their anatomy. But an Illinois lawmaker wants to change that.

Illinois lawmakers may soon take up the controversial question of which bathrooms should be used by transgender students.

Susan Koch, chancellor of the University of Illinois in Springfield, hosted a budget forum last week. And despite receiving no state funding for more than nine months, she had some good news to share with faculty and staff at the forum. 

Sarah Mueller / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Twenty years ago, Illinois adopted a school funding plan that relies heavily on local property taxes, leaving areas with low property values at the mercy of state aid. And for the past seven years, the state has failed to send those schools the full amount of aid promised under that plan.

http://www.op-cusd187-il.schoolloop.com/

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday released a report showing that many school districts had improved their financial ratings, despite receiving less state funding. But the news wasn't all good. The board's annual review of financial data showed that most districts were operating more efficiently, but board members pointed out that these efficiencies came at a cost. Almost 60 percent of districts are in deficit spending, and many have been forced to cut fine arts and other electives. State school superintendent Tony Smith says it's not fair to students.

albertogp123 / flickr.com

One of the few areas that's been exempt from the state's budget impasse -- now in its ninth month -- is public schools, the institutions that prepare children for college. Of course, to get into college, you need to take an entrance exam, like the ACT or the SAT, and that's traditionally funded by the Illinois State Board of Education.

 

But not this year.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Some Illinois districts spend just above six-thousand dollars per student in a school year, while other districts spend more than five times that amount. The difference is due to the disparity in property values across the state, because schools rely on property taxes for funding.

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Higher education officials used terms like "starving," "dismantling," and “economic suicide” last week as they tried to persuade state senators to find some way to heal the budget impasse.

Shannon M. O'Brien / UIS Campus Relations

Tim Killeen has been president of the University of Illinois for less than a year. During that time, he has been visiting the system's campuses, holding town hall meetings with the goal of drafting a strategic plan. The Springfield campus hosted the first town hall in November, and when the time came for audience comments, one young professor stood up and bluntly critiqued the plan. Last week, when Killeen returned for another town hall meeting, that brash young professor was sitting on the stage, next to Killeen.

After the meeting, she chatted with me.

Courtesy of the Renken Family

School systems label children with disabilities as "special education" students. But sometimes, what those special children want more than anything is to feel normal.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Lawmakers considering changing how the state funds public schools heard testimony yesterday from districts that would lose money under a plan currently on the table.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Parents in the North Mac school district are asking for the dismissal of superintendent Marica Cullen. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama a few months ago.

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