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.

Mason jar with coins in bottom.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The new state budget will fund Illinois colleges and universities at the level of funding they received in 2015 — minus 10 percent. But there’s one area of higher education that got a boost.  

Rauner at podium
@GovRauner / Facebook

Lawmakers approved a state budget more than a week ago. But the education portion remains uncertain. For the money to flow, Democrats added a provision that requires enactment of a new school funding plan. Democrats have passed such a plan through both chambers, but Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, says he’ll veto parts of it.

Student carrying school flag in gym
Seaton Township High School District 40

The shakeup in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office seems to signal a tougher stance on school funding. The state spending plan passed by the General Assembly requires adoption of a new funding formula, but Rauner has promised to veto the only school formula plan that got legislative approval. This standoff might make the lawsuit filed by 21 school superintendents more relevant.

 

The lawsuit, filed in April, demands that Illinois honor its constitutional obligation to provide a high quality education for all students.

In a maneuver some state lawmakers call a "booby trap," the spending plan approved last week says Illinois can't appropriate money for schools unless a new funding formula also wins approval. It ties K-12 dollars to something known as the "evidence-based model."

Both political parties endorse this model, which is based on each district's demographics. The Democrats' version has passed the House and the Senate; they haven't sent it to Gov. Bruce Rauner, however, because he has promised to veto it.

Courtesy of Amanda Vinicky / WTTW

Yesterday's controversial override vote that increased taxes was delayed by about two hours when the capitol was put on lockdown, due to reports of a woman throwing or spilling an unknown substance near the governor’s office and other locations. Reporter Dusty Rhodes knows the woman, and spoke with a lobbyist who witnessed her detention.

Press conference at capitol
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than a dozen school leaders from across Illinois gathered at the state capitol today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools. They held signs and banners saying “thank you,” but gratitude wasn’t their only motive.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

If Illinois lawmakers fail to enact a budget, state universities could potentially lose as much as $4 billion in federal funds.

That's according to Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University. He says the Higher Learning Commission has threatened to pull some schools' accreditation — a move that would cause serious ripple effects.

 

classroom desks
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

On Sunday, House Speaker Michael Madigan issued three demands for budget negotiations, and one of them was for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 — a massive overhaul to the state’s school funding structure. But he also said he was open to changes in that bill. Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes gives us a refresher course on what those changes might be.

 

"Upstate/Downstate"

If you had to place a bet on where student test scores have plummeted over the past decade and a half, where would you put your money? Chicago Public Schools? Galesburg? Urbana? A new study on student achievement in Illinois shows some surprising results.

The school funding debate continues to revolve around the issue of Chicago Public Schools.
Wikipedia Commons

Earlier this week, a group of Illinois Republicans announced a series of compromise measures they said could lead to a state budget. It includes a revised school funding plan, sponsored by State Senator Jason Barickman, of Bloomington.

Barickman calls his latest plan quote a huge step forward.

The fate of school funding reform in Illinois hinges on downstate sentiment about Chicago Public Schools, and legislators' grasp of a complex, new formula. The governor has already pledged to veto the legislation. And now, the battle has State Sen. Andy Manar accusing Education Secretary Beth Purvis of lying.

Kankakee Community College

The ongoing budget impasse has been particularly difficult for Illinois' institutions of higher education, which have received a mere fraction of their usual state funds. Community colleges depend on the state to supply 30 percent of their overall budget, but that formula has evaporated over the past two years.

 

John Avendano is the president of Kankakee Community College, but he's also president of the Presidents Council — the group made up of all Illinois community college presidents. He spoke with our Education Desk reporter about the special challenges these schools face.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Will Illinois lawmakers actually pass a new school funding plan? We hear from three longtime education advocates (the nice word for lobbyists) who have been influencing reps and senators for years.

 

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican, says he has been a member of at least nine caucuses.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois lawmakers last week approved a sweeping overhaul of the way the state funds public schools. Mainly Democrats supported the plan, but the top Republican co-sponsor chose not to vote at all.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Public schools would have to provide free feminine hygiene products in girls' bathrooms under legislation approved in the Illinois General Assembly.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

As budget negotiations continue, one big piece of the puzzle is school funding. We check in with our Education Desk reporter to see which bills are on the table, what they would do, why some “news” outlets say districts would lose money, and whether there’s any chance a bill will pass.

 

Davis chatting with advocates
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers of both parties, and even Gov. Bruce Rauner, agree that Illinois doesn't fund schools in an equitable manner. But with the legislative session scheduled to end on May 31, they still can't agree on exactly how to fix it.

 

One plan earned bipartisan approval in a House committee today, clearing a procedural hurdle that positions it for possible speedy passage.

 

Davis and Pritchard
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

It can be tough to find a bipartisan effort on any substantive issue at the capitol. But State Representatives Will Davis (a Democrat) and Bob Pritchard (a Republican) are still co-sponsoring House Bill 2808, designed to make school funding more equitable. These two lawmakers were both members of Governor Bruce Rauner's School Funding Reform Commission. That was a bipartisan, bicameral group that spent six months studying Illinois school funding issues and creating a framework for how to fix it. ​​​Last night, they sat down for an impromptu chat about their legislation, and why it keeps changing, with our education desk reporter, Dusty Rhodes.

 

 

Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar, of Bunker Hill, is accusing Gov. Bruce Rauner of trying to kill his school funding legislation. He says the administration fed erroneous information to a Republican operative's website.

The story in question appears in the Kankakee Times, one of a dozen community news organs created by Dan Proft. Proft runs a political action committee supported by Rauner.

ilga.gov

Two school funding plans progressed in the Illinois legislature Wednesday. A plan sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar was approved in the Senate, while in the House, a very similar plan sponsored by Rep. Will Davis made it through committee. Does that mean lawmakers may have finally found a way to cure the state's infamously unfair school funding structure?

Dashawn Julion (center) poses with his mother, Leisha Julion, and his 13-year-old brother Larry at the Black Congratulatory ceremony.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Commencement ceremonies took place on many college campuses this past weekend, including the University of Illinois. Our Education Desk reporter takes us inside one that's different from all the others — the Black Congratulatory ceremony at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Spiro Bolos

Too often, when I report on the school funding debate that has been going on in our state capitol for the past several years, I get bogged down in numbers — school district numbers, dollar amounts, bill and amendment numbers assigned to various reform plans, vote numbers tallying up support for each one.

This story, however, is about school funding without numbers.

Daisy Contreras/NPRIllinois

The faculty will be back in class today for the start of finals week. The agreement was reached after long negotiations over the weekend including 16 hours Sunday.  Details won’t be released until a ratification vote later.

Courtesy of Senate staff

The question of how to fund Illinois schools has become one of the most urgent — yet complicated —issues facing lawmakers.

UIS Chancellor Susan Koch
University of Illinois Springfield

It's cold and rainy today, but that hasn't deterred the University of Illinois Springfield faculty from the picket line. Tenured and tenure-track professors seeking a contract are in the third day of a strike. But there may be signs of progress.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Students are being told to continue reporting to class at the University of Illinois Springfield, despite the fact that the faculty is on strike. More than 160 tenured and tenure-track professors represented by University Professionals of Illinois have been negotiating almost two years in an effort to get personnel policies included in a contract.

 

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

I recently spent an evening at Springfield’s Dubois Elementary, with a group of tutors focused on helping the school’s youngest students — kindergarten through second grade.

But in this particular tutoring arrangement, everyone is learning. The older kids are in a program called Our American Voice, designed to bring civics lessons back to the younger grades. Students get an instructional course in citizenship, and then create their own community service project.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

It's hard to find an issue that unites Illinois lawmakers, yet members of both political parties and Governor Bruce Rauner have consistently agreed the state needs to change the way it funds schools. Now, with the filing of two separate legislative plans, that once-unison chorus sounds out of tune. State Senator Jason Barickman is the author of one of those plans. Our education desk reporter Dusty Rhodes quizzed him on how he intends to fix the flaws in the state's current funding formula.

UPDATED: The dollars-and-cents details of a new school funding plan were revealed yesterday. Some districts would gain just a few cents per pupil; others would gain more than a thousand dollars per child.

Only a few schools would lose money under the new plan proposed by Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington. But lawmakers will still have plenty to fight about when they see how few cents some districts gain compared to others.

The Flowing Font Fight

Apr 24, 2017
Dusty Rhodes

Should the State of Illinois require public schools to teach students how to write in cursive? That question is at the center of a legislative measure generating more controversy than you might expect for a bill that doesn’t even involve money.

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