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.

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.

public domain

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.

public domain

Congress recently authorized a complete rewrite of the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. What does that mean for Illinois?

Courtesy of IBHE

The budget that Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed yesterday recommends a 16 percent cut to higher education. This year's proposed cut sounds gentler than the 32 percent reduction Rauner recommended last year. But instead of being spread across higher education, virtually all of the pain would fall upon the state's universities.

ACES Too High

Next fall marks the launch of a new school discipline law that limits suspensions and expulsions. To help teachers prepare, the Illinois Education Association brought in Jim Sporleder, an expert in getting even the worst kids to behave.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Public schools were singled out in Governor Bruce Rauner's budget address yesterday as one of the rare state services he’s happy to fund. In fact, he said increasing education funding is the one thing that he will not back down on.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Democratic lawmakers led a group of college students to the office of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner yesterday. They asked him to fund tuition grants promised to low-income students.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

lllinois' Education Funding Task Force met yesterday to consider whether to change how the state finances education.

The current system is based on property taxes, so school districts with high land values  -- like those in the suburbs north of Chicago -- want to keep the status quo. 

UIS Senior Photographer Shannon O’Brien

As the state’s budget impasse enters its eighth month, college students who relied on state grants to cover part of their tuition are being told they may have to come up with the cash themselves. That’s just the latest blow to a program whose mission hasn’t been fully-funded in years. 

At the beginning of every year, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission meets in Chicago to decide how to distribute MAP grants — the Monetary Award Program funds that help low-income students pay for college. 

Illinois' school funding formula relies heavily on property taxes, resulting in deep disparities in districts’ levels of spending. When the Illinois State Board of Education met Wednesday, members talked about a potential change to make the funding formula more equitable. 

University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch previously served as an administratro at Northern Michigan University.
University of Illinois

Susan Koch, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Springfield, met with the faculty senate Friday to talk about state funding and other issues. She told the roomful of college professors that she was hesitant to tell them news that might send them out onto the job market, but, she said, a recent study by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed state appropriations for colleges all over the nation rose over 4 percent. Not counted in that average were Pennsylvania and Illinois — the two states where lawmakers have failed to agree on a budget, and appropriations have fallen by 100 percent. 

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan today announced that he will re-convene hearings on the state’s education funding formula. The state's current formula relies heavily on property taxes, creating a big disparity among schools based on their geographic location. Some districts can spend more than $32,000 per student every year, while others scrape by on a fraction of that amount. 

Courtesy of District 186

Springfield school board last night approved a request to add baseball to the athletic program at Franklin Middle School. 

Springfield currently has only one middle school team participating in America's greatest past-time -- baseball. That team represents the Lincoln Magnet School/Ball Charter collaborative. The board unanimously supported Franklin Middle School's request to field a team. It will be coached by Brett Troemper, a science teacher at Franklin and assistant baseball coach at Springfield High.

If you're the parent of a Springfield student, you probably spent the winter holidays reminding your kid to study, or supervising homework projects. That's because this year, final exams began a week after students returned from winter break. District officials didn't plan it that way just to take all the fun out of Christmas.

Pages