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.

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.

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

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.

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