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.

Courtesy of repmmurphy.com

Pleasant Plains is a small but prosperous town about 15 minutes northwest of Springfield. Its schools are all rated “commendable,” and their test results outshine state averages in every subject.

And yet, in March, the high school principal, Luke Brooks, asked Illinois lawmakers to stop requiring algebra.

Equality Illinois

Illinois' MAP grants — the monetary award program for low-income college students — would be available to more students if a bill approved by the legislature this month becomes law. MAP grants are currently unavailable students who don't qualify for federal financial aid. In Illinois, that includes about 1,200 students who immigrated to the US as children.

Wikimedia Commons

Last year, a school nurse in East Moline faced a moral dilemma when a diabetic student lost consciousness in her office. Now she’s trying to make sure no other school nurse has to face the same tough choice.

Low blood sugar can usually be cured with orange juice and a granola bar. But those snacks and glucose tabs weren’t helping the 7th grader sitting in Jennifer Jacobs’ office.

“Her blood sugar kept falling, and we kept pushing the snacks,” Jacobs says.

inslidelockdown.com

Illinois school administrators hoping to protect staff and students against the threat of an active shooter could get a new addition to their toolkit — devices designed to quickly barricade classroom doors during an emergency situation.

But that tool would come with its own set of problems.

Matt Perez, the State Fire Marshal, today warned lawmakers that any lock handy enough to be grabbed in a crisis could also be used by, for example, the shooter, or even one student wanting to bully a classmate.

illinoisreportcard.com

A clause in the 2017 school funding reform law was designed to provide property tax relief. But after one year of implementation, the State Board of Education is suggesting lawmakers might want to reconsider.

Under Illinois’ previous school funding structure, most of the burden fell on property owners. The 2017 law was designed to shift more of that load to the state, with an additional $350 million going mainly to the neediest districts. But $50 million of that was set aside to abate taxes in districts that were squeezing homeowners too hard.

Courtesy of Illinois Public Media

Authorities are investigating an anonymous letter threatening the lives of anyone in line to receive state-funded pensions. The letter was mailed to several legislators and at least one public radio station. In big letters, the mailing says “Dead people can’t collect fat state pensions,” and goes on to warn lawmakers and union leaders of death by arson, strangulation or other unspecified means.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

While Illinois is struggling with a teacher shortage, some potential teachers are finding barriers to getting a license. Our education reporter Dusty Rhodes introduces us to one of those aspiring teachers.

 

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

 The Illinois State Board of Education this week hosted a conversation on possible solutions to the state’s teacher shortage. We discussed the highlights on Statewide.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education used their monthly meeting Wednesday to host a conversation on possible solutions to the state’s worsening teacher shortage. The board is looking for ways to maintain high quality standards without discouraging potential teachers from entering the profession.

 

Afterwards, the agency’s chief education officer, Ralph Grimm, said there is no single solution.

 

“Two and a half hours of testimony I think really reinforced to the board how deep and structural the teacher shortage issue really is across the state, that its effects are felt differently in different parts of the state, but all over the state,” he said.

CollegeDegrees360 / flickr.com

Illinois lawmakers today rejected legislation that could have made it easier for former felons to apply for college. Popularly known as a “ban the box” bill, it would have prevented colleges from asking about criminal history on basic application forms.

Once a student is admitted, colleges would still be allowed to consider criminal history for housing and participation in campus activities.

 

But State Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore), said it was still dangerous.

Student athletes in gym
Mark Ambrose

Illinois has 852 school districts — the third highest number of any state in the nation. Some are just single schools, with fewer than a hundred students. But getting districts to merge, or consolidate, has proven difficult.

Tom Magliery / flickr.com

Every baby born in Illinois could get a tiny college savings account under a plan that passed the state House of Representatives Wednesday. The proposal comes from the state treasurer’s office, as a way to  encourage families to start planning for their children's college education.

Beginning in 2021, each baby born or adopted in Illinois would automatically receive a 529 college savings account with $50 deposited by the treasurer's office.

Wall of framed board member head shots
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A few months ago, the Illinois State Board of Education voted to ask lawmakers for $15.6 billion to fund public schools. Now, a newly appointed board wants to change that request, to ask for just under $9 billion.

These board members were appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, so it's no surprise that the $8.9 billion request they’re proposing aligns almost perfectly with Pritzker's budget.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi midshot
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Graduate students who work as research assistants alongside university professors could win the right to go on strike. Current law excludes them from being counted as employees. But a proposal to change that (HB253​)   was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives last week.

Several Republican state representatives argued giving them that right would raise college costs. State Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) argued the measure could eventually lead to higher tuition prices for undergraduates.

 

Courtesy of Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School

Illinois lawmakers are considering a variety of bills that would change the requirements to earn a teaching certificate.

 

Right now, to become a licensed teacher in Illinois, you have to pass at least three tests.

State Week logo (capitol dome)
Brian Mackey

Among the subjects discussed this week: medical and recreational marijuana, an anti-abortion rally at the capitol building, Illinois' teacher shortage, and legalizing sports gambling.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers have proposed a variety of plans to tackle the state's severe teacher shortage. This week, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), bundled three popular concepts into one bill.​

"These are three things that I hear almost in complete unison from teachers across the state, in small rural districts to larger districts, that in different ways impact the profession,” he told the Senate education committee.

Those three things:

students at school
West 40 Regional Safe Schools

Almost two years after Illinois overhauled its school funding formula, educators are still trying to tie up a few loose ends that got overlooked in the 540-page legislation. One of those loose ends omitted funding for about 7,000 students.

Those kids are the ones who need what's called "alternative school," because they've struggled with discipline or truancy, and fallen behind. Many alternative schools are run by regional offices, rather than traditional school districts. And those regional offices weren't incorporated in the overhaul plan.

Wikimedia Commons

More than a year ago, Illinois lawmakers approved a total overhaul of the way the state funds schools. That landmark legislation, known as “evidence-based funding,” got a lot of media attention. But at the same time, something else happened that went totally unreported: The state also changed the number of instructional hours required in a school day from five to zero.

Let’s be clear: The new law didn’t force any changes, so most districts carried on with their usual schedules. And as soon teachers unions noticed the five-hour requirement had been dropped, they began to lobby to reinstate it.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A survey released this week suggests Illinois’ teacher shortage is getting worse, not better. Eighty-five percent of superintendents who responded said they’re having a tough time finding qualified teachers to fill vacancies. That’s up from 78 percent in 2017.

Lawmakers have been scrambling to figure out how to recruit more teachers. State Rep. Sue Scherer, a Decatur Democrat, is holding a hearing Wednesday afternoon, focused on changing licensure standards for teachers.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

There's an old saying that the hardest animal to kill is a school mascot. But Illinois lawmakers are taking a look at possibly thinning the herd.

 

Illinois has some school districts operating with only elementary grades, some with only high school grades, some with fewer than a hundred children — a total of 852 school districts. That's more than any other state except California and Texas, both of which have more than twice our population.

Does it matter?

A new father trying to provide for his family. A grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago. A man navigating multiple schools, hidden curriculums and financial hurdles. These are just some of the older students working toward a degree in the U.S.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Urbana school district has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons — on campus fights. Most publicity has pointed to the district's implementation of a new restorative justice discipline policy, along with a shuffle of administrative personnel, as the causes of the uptick in school violence.

But over the weekend, Urbana’s high schools newspaper The Echo pushed back against that popular narrative in an editorial titled Racism at the Root of Recent Urbana High School Coverage.

Students, teachers, staff and volunteers pose for photo in prison
Karl Soderstrom

Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.

That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.

Kankakee Community College

Officials from each of Illinois' public universities traveled to the statehouse this week to tell lawmakers about their leaky roofs, outdated science labs and broken air conditioners, in hopes of getting funding to fix them. It’s part of a push toward a public works program, known in the legislature as a capital bill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised the state will spend billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, and public agencies are lining up to ask for a piece of that pie.

Courtesy of Illinois State Board of Education

Gov. J.B. Pritzker replaced most of the state board of education this week and appointed a new superintendent.

The board includes seven women and two men. The new superintendent, Carmen Ayala, is the first woman and the first person of color appointed to hold that position full-time.

"It's amazing. It's such an honor, I mean, it still hasn't hit me today,” she said. “Somebody texted and said, ‘You know, Carmen, today you made history in Illinois,’ and I was like wow! That's just amazing. It's an honor."

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A measure gaining support in the Illinois legislature would have schools teach students the concept of consent in sexual relationships.

 

Beyond “no-means-no,” this law would require any sex ed course offered in grades 6 through 12 to include a comprehensive definition of consent. For example: Consent to one activity doesn't constitute consent to another activity. Consent to sexual activity in the past doesn’t equate to consent in the future. A person's manner of dress or lack of active resistance don't imply consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoarchitecturetoday/7541118788

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker rolled out his budget proposal on Wednesday, he acknowledged that he needs more than $1 billion in new revenue to make it work. The question is: Where will he find all that dough?

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

In his budget address today, Gov. J.B. Pritzker listed education as one of his top three priorities, requesting increased funding for programs across the educational spectrum, from babies to grade school to colleges and universities.

Now all he has to do is persuade lawmakers to go along with his plan to pay for it.

shape of Illinois in coins
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his first budget address at a time of acute fiscal distress for the state of Illinois. It also comes after Democrats have taken total control of the executive and legislative branches of state government, including supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate.

For this week's Illinois Issues report, NPR Illinois reporters analyzed the governor's speech:

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