Pandemic believed to be big part of public school enrollment loss

By Dar Danielson, Radio IowaThe Iowa Department of Education’s annual report on the 2020-2021 school year for public schools showed a drop of nearly 6,000 students.

Department of Education analyst, Jay Pennington, says it is the first drop in enrollment in about ten years. “The largest decreases were in the preschool and kindergarten grades. My guess is that due to some of the unknowns going into the 20-21 school year — that parents opted to keep their kids at home,” Pennington says.

Pennington says they are working on the numbers and do expect an increase in enrollment for the current year. “I think the real question is how many of the 6,000 or so of the students that we lost actually come back for the 2021-22 school year,” he says.

Pennington says while there were losses — the enrollment pattern stayed the same as it has been the last several years. That pattern sees about one-third of districts — mostly in the larger urban areas — gaining students.

“At the same time, we are also seeing two-thirds of districts declining in enrollment. And those typically are the more rural parts of the state,” according to Pennington. “so, even though there was a decrease of a sizable number of students — it sort of followed the typical third to two-thirds pattern.”

The Ed Department’s report showed some positives for students. “For the Class of 2020, we saw a nice increase in the average ACT score, which is exciting, unfortunately, we also had fewer students taking that ACT in the year. We saw an increase in graduation rate,” he says.

He says there are some negatives in the report’s numbers as well. “We saw a sort of an across-the-board decrease in mathematic achievement in the most recent report. At the same time we also saw sort of a mixed bag in terms of some increases in English language, arts — which includes reading and writing — with some grade levels going up and other grade levels going down,” Pennington says.

Other numbers from the report showed the state’s total per-pupil expense in the 2019-20 school year was up $56 from $10,738 the year before. The number of minority students dropped slightly from 26.1% to 25.7%.