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.

If there's one thing that most educators agree on, it's that a school full of low-income students requires teachers to bring their A game if they want to close the achievement gap. But after years of studying high-poverty schools that succeed, Lynne Haeffele has come up with a short list of traits those successful schools share. Haefele directs the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, and she will be speaking tonight at a townhall-style event in Decatur. Haeffele has been studying “break the mold” schools -- high poverty, high performing schools -- to discover their magic formula.

 

 

Courtesy of AFSCME Local 31

If you were a soldier in World War II, a furlough was something to look forward to. It was a sanctioned leave of absence from your normal duties, a chance to relax and go have some fun. In today's economy, the word furlough has lost some of its luster. It still connotes time off, but without pay.

Tomorrow, Jeff Brownfield, who represents university civil service employees, will appear before the General Assembly's rules committee to ask lawmakers to approve a measure allowing state schools to require employees to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Timothy Killeen headshot
University of Illinois System

The University of Illinois is offering state lawmakers a deal: The school will meet several access and accountability benchmarks, if the state will pledge five years of stable funding.

Karen Walrond

Kelly Wickham Hurst spent about 20 years with Springfield School District 186. As guidance dean, she frequently took to social media to share stories of black students being treated unfairly, and her efforts to advocate on their behalf. Sprinkled in among those stories were hints that some colleagues resented her, like the time a teacher inadvertently flashed a text message over the classroom projector and students saw Hurst referenced by a derogatory term. So it was no surprise when she parted ways with the school district and started an initiative called Being Black At School.

L. Brian Stauffer / Illinois News Bureau

Colleges and universities have been starved for state funding through the ongoing budget impasse. The interim provost at the flagship campus of the University of Illinois recently presented faculty and staff with a blunt accounting of the school’s financial situation.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of a 25-member commission, and gave them six months to rewrite the state’s school funding formula. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) is one of 20 lawmakers on the bipartisan, bicameral commission. We asked him for an update on the commission's progress.

Illinois has applied to the federal government for a waiver that could bring Illinois not only a significant increase in Medicaid dollars, but also more flexibility for how those dollars are spent. We talked to two members of Gov. Bruce Rauner's cabinet -- Human Services Secretary James Dimas and George Sheldon, acting secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services -- about what this waiver would mean for the state.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Illinois U-S Senator Dick Durbin is pleading with school administrators to help prevent for-profit colleges from recruiting their students. His comments today came during a statewide meeting of school principals. 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If you haven’t submitted your student’s FAFSA, you need to do it immediately. But this year, it’s easier than ever to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. We talked to two experts about how students and families can get help filing this form and applying for college and financial aid: Jacqueline Moreno, managing director of college access initiatives at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, and Manuel Talavera, ISAC Corps coordinator.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform recently compared enrollment data of Illinois public colleges and universities against similar schools in six neighboring states. 

BlueRoomStream.com

When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, it represented something rare these days -- a new law with bipartisan support. That’s largely because it replaced No Child Left Behind, which was almost universally unpopular.

But writing regulations for the new law fell to the federal Department of Education -- the same agency that enforced No Child Left Behind. In a recent column for US News and World Report, Illinois superintendent Tony Smith complained the DOE was perpetuating the same practices in the new regulations.

Brent Clark, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Courtesy of IASA

When it comes to equity in school funding, Illinois ranks last among all 50 states. So over the summer, various groups of lawmakers have been meeting with stakeholders, trying to come up with a plan that will send state dollars to the school districts that genuinely need help. Brent Clark has been attending all those meetings.

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.

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