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.

www.oprfhs.org

More than two dozen school districts learned last week that they're eligible for property tax relief grants from the Illinois State Board of Education. Most of those districts have inadequate funding. But a few already exceed what's needed to provide a good education.

UIS Campus Relations

Among a slew of bills filed this week as the General Assembly opened its new session was a proposal to give $50 million to Southern Illinois University. The money would be used to build a public policy center in downtown Springfield.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

When Illinois adopted a new school funding formula in 2017, it was the culmination of a multi-years-long effort involving a handful of complicated proposals. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a few details slipped through the cracks. But one of those details was pretty big; it was the school clock.

What counts as a school day? Well, five clock hours of instructional time has been the law of the land in Illinois as long as anybody can remember. That’s enough for a half dozen classes, plus a passing period and lunch. But for reasons that no one has stated on the record, that provision disappeared when the new school funding formula took effect, leaving the minimum number of required instructional hours at zero.

Two students in lab
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

College has traditionally been the place young adults get the education they need to pursue their life’s calling. At one of Chicago’s City Colleges, there’s a program for student’s whose life calling deals with death.

Alycia Adams attends Malcolm X College, which is strategically located near Chicago’s medical district, and specializes in the health sciences. But unlike most of her classmates at Malcolm X, Adams isn’t learning anything about saving lives.

“It started with a guinea pig, in third grade,” she says. “I had the responsibility of taking care of it over the summer, and they don’t live long, and so it died.”

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

When Illinois approved a new school funding formula in 2017, it didn't make funding equitable across all districts overnight. But it has opened the eyes of the State Board of Education.

The new formula, called "evidence based funding," is calculated by weighing each district's financial needs against the economic resources of the surrounding community. This comparison revealed that some districts have less than half the resources they need, while other districts have three times what they need.

Photo illustration by Søren Daum

Statistics show that only about one-third of sexual assaults get reported to authorities. But a new Illinois law removes some of the barriers that could prevent rape victims from coming forward. Dubbed "the survivors’ bill of rights," this legislation offers protections plus some small comforts for people reporting sexual assault.

College Illinois!

No matter how good you've been this year, there's one thing we know you're not getting for Christmas: A pre-paid tuition contract from the state's College Illinois! plan.

Established in 1999, the plan was a way for parents or grandparents to pay tuition in advance through a contract. But Eric Zarnikow, director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, decided to stop selling those contracts last year.

Courtesy of Kelly Services

One of the new laws that goes into effect next year will allow school districts to use third-party recruiting firms to address Illinois' severe teacher shortage. So if you live in a school district that struggles to find subs, you may find your child being taught by a Kelly Girl.

That's the company's original name. It changed to Kelly Services in the 1970s. Kelly has been helping staff schools in other states for about 20 years. Now, it's eager to add Illinois to its portfolio.

EMSA Facebook

Last spring, Illinois lawmakers approved legislation that would strip a state commission of its power to overrule local school boards. But after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill, some state senators changed their positions, while others disappeared from view.

The vote came late on a Wednesday afternoon. It was below freezing in Springfield, and starting to snow in Chicago. Did that matter? Maybe.

“There were people sitting in their chairs who were ‘yeses’ last time who did not vote,” says Sean Denney, the lobbyist who has been pushing this bill for six years.

Courtesy of the J.B. Pritzker campaign

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker today announced his seventh transition team. This one is charged with advising Pritzker on policies for all levels of education, and has almost three dozen members, including 10 advocacy group leaders, six lawmakers (all Democrats), four public university officials, three community college officials,  and one current principal.

Courtesy of School District U-46

Tony Sanders is the CEO of Unit 46 in Elgin — the state's second-largest school district, with almost 40,000 students. Right now, he's short at least 30 teachers. He's using retired teachers as long-term substitutes. Even though those retirees can teach only 120 days out of the 178-day school year, Sanders knows he’s got it better than superintendents in districts that don’t have a deep bench of subs.

"Yeah, if it weren't for retirees, we would really be in a jam,” Sanders says. “Luckily, a lot of retirees like to come back and still be in a classroom."

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

When the Illinois state legislature passed its new school funding law, it changed more than just the dollar amount each school district receives. It also changed the number of hours of instruction schools have to provide.

Under the old law, schools had to provide at least five “clock hours” of instruction per school day. Now, there’s no minimum number of hours — or minutes — because that provision of the school code got wiped out by the legislature.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A recent study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy shows that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stands out among similar schools for its low percentage of minority students.

illinoisreportcard.com / Illinois State Board of Education

In Illinois, more than 80 percent of all public school teachers are white. But odds are, most of the children in their classrooms are Hispanic, Black, Asian, or a mixture of races. Only 48 percent of public school students are white.

Emily Fox is trying to bring those numbers closer together. She is “director of educator effectiveness” at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education has unveiled a new labeling system for schools, with roughly 550 Illinois schools now being tagged "under-performing," and another 200 called "lowest performing."

The Love U Give

Oct 26, 2018
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Earlier this week, a Springfield teacher took a group of students to a movie theater to view a popular new teen drama based on a bestselling novel. It was a special screening just for students who had earned the right to be there by reading the book and writing a paper about it. Of course, using a movie to bribe kids into reading literature is one of the oldest tricks in the teacher playbook. But that’s not what was happening with this movie, this piece of literature, and this teacher.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

What test should school teachers have to pass to earn a license in Illinois? The Illinois State Board of Education takes up that question at their meeting Wednesday.

Springfield High School cafeteria
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Springfield public schools have an ambitious 30-year master plan to renovate or rebuild facilities on all campuses, plus create new baseball, softball and soccer fields. Of course, those improvements cost money. So Springfield and surrounding districts are asking Sangamon County voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase in November. All proceeds would go toward facilities.

Screen shot / SPSchannel22

Every two years, Springfield teachers elect a union president. This year, that election was a squeaker. With close to 1,500 teachers voting, a new president was elected by a narrow, nine-vote margin.

There’s no way to know how many of those teachers were aware that — less than a year earlier — the teacher they elected as their leader had appeared before the Springfield School Board to defend himself against allegations that he had put a 7th-grader in a chokehold.

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Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The race for Illinois Governor is heading into the home stretch, and the #MeToo movement continues to impact politics nationwide and in Illinois.

Dave Dahl of WTAX joins the panel.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

As districts around the state begin reaping the benefits of Illinois' new school funding formula, Democratic lawmakers who just happen to be up for re-election gathered today to remind voters that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner initially vetoed that funding, and likewise vetoed legislation that would raise minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 over the next five years.

 

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation and is seeking re-election, says it's possible to get enough votes to override the veto when the General Assembly convenes shortly after midterm elections in November.

Eric Lichtenberger in office
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS

lllinois has historically ranked second in the nation when it comes to high school graduates leaving the state to go to college. But there's good news for a certain set of students who opt to stay.

 

New data released by the state Board of Higher Education shows Illinois is tops in the nation for getting students who start out at community college through to a bachelor's degree.

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.

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