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

Illinois’ new school funding formula — approved last year — could already be facing revisions. That's because lawmakers had such a tough time agreeing on this new formula, they tried to ensure they'd never have to fight so hard again. So they built in a Professional Review Panel, and empowered the group to recommend recalibrations as needed.

​One idea under consideration: Adding a racial equity component, to address the historic underfunding of predominantly black districts.

Yolanda Harrington walks one of her students into Barkstall Elementary in Champaign. Harrington, who had dreams of becoming a teacher, makes $18 an hour and works a second job. She has been a paraprofessional for 19 years.
Courtesy of the Student's Family

Like most states, Illinois is struggling with a severe teacher shortage. And, also like most states, that shortage is felt most profoundly in the area of special education. There is, however, an army of teacher assistants already on the job. Could they help relieve this shortage?

University of Illinois officials before the Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

During the past week, you probably caught a brief news story or two about the Illinois Innovation Network, or maybe Discovery Partners Institute. It’s worth your attention: In the current state budget, these two projects are slated to receive half a billion dollars.

Joanne Johnson / Flickr

lllinois is in the grips of a severe teacher shortage, but late last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation to raise their wages. The bill would’ve ramped up the minimum salary to $40,000 by the year 2022. In a message explaining his veto, Rauner called that an “unfunded mandate.”

But State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation, says he hasn’t given up on the effort.

https://admissions.illinois.edu/commitment

The University of Illinois today announced a new financial aid program designed to make enrollment at its Urbana-Champaign campus more affordable for middle-class students. They’re calling this program Illinois Commitment, and Kevin Pitts, vice-provost for undergraduate education, says the goal is to persuade families they really can afford to send their kids to the state’s flagship university.

 

“Illinois Commitment pledges to cover tuition and mandatory fees for all students who have a family income below $61,000 per year,” Pitts says.

teacherpensions.org

A national study released this week comparing general school funding dollars with the amount spent on staff benefits singled out Illinois — and not in a good way.  

Google Maps

Big changes are in store for Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora. 

@assassinsgame16

At Springfield High School, Ethan Doyle is an honors student, a member of the baseball team, the investment club, and an elite student group known as Superintendent’s Roundtable. But perhaps his most notable accomplishment came during the spring of his sophomore year, when he assassinated more of his classmates than anybody else.

Go Ahead Of The Class

Jul 30, 2018
School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn www.flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/

A new Illinois law will give gifted children the chance to move ahead in public schools.

April Alonso / The Chicago Reporter

This is one of those good news/bad news stories. A series of state laws meant to reduce the number of kids getting kicked out of school appears to have worked. That’s the good news. But the bad news is: Those same laws also seem to have magnified racial disparities in school discipline.

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U.S. Secret Service

  

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service released a guide for preventing school violence. Issued in response to recent massacres in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, it’s subtitled “An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.”

But closer to home, a group from the Illinois Terrorism Task Force had already presented a very similar set of recommendations back in April.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Illinois has traditionally used a competitive grant process to parcel out money for preschools. In the past, that competition was limited to programs that had a history of getting state funds. But this year, after the legislature appropriated an extra $50 million for preschools, the Illinois State Board of Education threw the competition open to all programs.

Once applications were reviewed and ranked, preschools around the state were shocked to learn they wouldn’t be getting the state funding they expected. Some weren’t funded because their grant applications scored below ISBE’s threshold; others weren’t funded simply because the appropriated amount couldn’t cover the demand.

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Ten days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees who choose not to join unions no longer have to pay reduced fees to cover collective bargaining. And already, a crusade to persuade teachers to drop union membership has hit Illinois.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

When school districts outside of Chicago negotiate contracts, they do so with the assurance that the state will pick up the tab on pensions. To control growing pension costs, lawmakers capped salary bumps at 6 percent in 2005. This year, the cap tightened to 3 percent.

Illinois' teachers unions have collected more than 15,000 signatures on petitions urging state lawmakers to reverse that measure.  

NPR Illinois

Long before he ran for governor, Bruce Rauner was a champion for school choice. That’s the shorthand way of saying he used his considerable clout and cash to support charter schools, most of which don’t welcome teacher unions.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The fate of Southern Illinois University's president may be decided tomorrow at a special meeting of SIU's board of trustees, which is set to consider placing Pres. Randy Dunn on administrative leave.

This decision comes amid a heated debate about dissolving the SIU system and making its two campuses independent entities.

We asked Jennifer Fuller, who has been covering this issue for nearly two decades, to explain how SIU got to this point.

 

Rhodes: How close are we to a breakup of these two university campuses?

Jennifer Fuller: You know, it appears to be the closest that it has been.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Illinois has struggled for decades to persuade high school graduates to stay in-state for college. The recent two-year budget impasse only made things worse. Now, a group of lawmakers has a plan to reverse the trend, starting with the state’s Monetary Award Program.

Courtesy of Kassie Jones

In the Farrington school district, near Mount Vernon, a new teacher makes less than $29,000 — even with a master’s degree. Farrington is one of the lowest-paying districts, but state officials say some 7,000 teachers statewide makes less than $40,000.

A new state law just approved by the legislature would change that.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS / NPR Illinois

State Senator Chapin Rose had what he thought was a no-brainer bill. All he wanted to do was help public universities connect with promising high school juniors by sharing basic data like standardized test scores. But just hours before presenting his bill in committee, he ran into FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

It’s a federal law; there’s no easy way around it.

siue.edu

Legislation that could have severed the Southern Illinois University board of trustees into two separate organizations may be put on ice to allow time for an independent study.

Think of it like a couple considering divorce, and the judge sends them to mediation instead.

A group of school superintendents is suing Gov. Bruce Rauner and the State of Illinois seeking more than $7 billion for schools.

siu.edu

Documents published today by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper have sparked calls for the immediate resignation of Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. For weeks, lawmakers have been mulling a package of bills — one of which would boost funding to the Edwardsville campus, another would split the two campuses entirely, and the third would reconstitute SIU's Board of Trustees. The documents published today suggest that Dunn may have withheld information from the Carbondale campus chancellor in an effort to funnel more than $5 million in state funds to the Edwardsville campus and split SIU into two separate schools.

Courtesy of Ann Baltzer

Earlier this month, we posted a story about discipline practices inside Noble Network of Charter Schools, which educates approximately one out of 10 high school students in Chicago. One former teacher quoted in the piece described some of the schools’ policies as “dehumanizing.”

The story was shared widely on social media, and drew responses from Noble employees — both current and former — and other education advocates.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner has a track record of handing the toughest topics to small bipartisan panels of legislators. These “working groups” have been tasked with solving budget and pension problems, plus criminal justice reform. And weeks after the Florida mass shooting, Rauner formed a working group on public safety. Like the others, that group meets in private.

 

Speaking after today's meeting, State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) said it's probably meant to prevent politicians from grandstanding.

Courtesy of John Connor

As he got ready to pitch his legislation to the House education committee, State Rep. John Connor held up a snapshot.

 

"This is a picture of myself and my younger brother, Matt Connor, at his graduation from the University of Notre Dame in 1994,” the lawmaker said. “What you can't see in this picture is the mole that's on his back. It was a very unusual mole. He was dating a girl who was in the nursing program. She told him to get it looked at. And he waited.”

Coins cutout and posted on bulletin board
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

The state Illinois will finally begin sending local school districts more than $350 million dollars to equalize school funding. The funds, set to go out next week, come as the result of the reform battle waged in the General Assembly over the past several years.

Courtesy of Ann Baltzer

The trend toward school choice has educators across the country looking at Chicago’s Noble Charter Schools — an award-winning network of mostly high schools that specializes in helping inner-city kids achieve the kind of SAT scores that propel them into four-year universities. But despite its prestigious reputation, Noble has a peculiarly high teacher turnover rate.

Courtesy of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

For more than 30 years, kids with a certain streak of genius have found a home at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in suburban Chicago. It’s the rarest of gems in the educational landscape: a public, affordable, boarding school. One of just a handful of such schools nationwide, Wired magazine dubbed it “Hogwarts for Hackers.” But now, after the state’s two-year budget impasse, lawmakers are pondering a proposal that would welcome wizards from outside of Illinois — for a price.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

An obscure, technical bit of legislation could make a big difference for some of the state’s youngest students. It’s meant to tie up all the loose ends on the massive school funding reform lawmakers approved last August. This cleanup bill contains more than a dozen changes, plus language that would fund bilingual education for students in pre-kindergarten classes. All it needs is the signature of Governor Bruce Rauner.

 

Without that?

Sue Scherer/Facebook

A recent report has shown Illinois is in the midst of a severe teacher shortage, particularly in the central part of the state. A panel of lawmakers took testimony on that topic today.

In the first of a series of such hearings, a committee heard from the agency responsible for licensing teachers, and from various teacher unions. But several lawmakers on the panel are former school teachers, and Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) wasn't shy about sharing her personal opinion on why the ranks of teachers is dwindling.

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