Iowa’s public schools lost 6,000 students last school year; the first decline in a decade


By Catherine Wheeler, Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa Department of Education’s Annual Condition of Education report presents some data on the state’s public schools from the 2020-2021 school year and includes information like demographics of students and academic achievement.

Jay Pennington, a bureau chief with the department, said the report is mandated by the legislature and it allows the department to get a snapshot of the state’s public education each year and to measure trends.


Pennington said the report was helpful in seeing the effect on schools a year following the beginning of the pandemic.

“We saw a fairly significant decline in student enrollment overall and then in particular in pre-K and kindergarten programs saw the greatest decline in enrollment,” he said.

The report showed K-12 enrollment across the state dropped by close to 6,000 students from the year, the first time numbers had dropped since the 2011 school year.


Within the student body, the report showed in the 2020-2021 school year, minority students made up 26 percent of students, up from the previous year. Close to 42 percent of students in Iowa’s public schools were eligible for free and reduced lunch, which was down slightly from the year before.

The cost per student increased to $10,794.


On point Pennington noted was that 98 percent of students took the statewide assessment following a tumultuous school year in 2019-2020.


“Given some of the destructions from the last school year, we weren’t really sure going into the assessment window, how many kids would actually be able to participate in the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress,” he said.

The report also takes teachers into account. It showed Iowa’s public schools had an all-time high number of full-time teachers last school year with 38,022 teachers.


Pennington said that’s not exactly surprising from an economic perspective.

“There’s been intentional legislation that’s pumped money into raising teacher salary, creating teacher leadership roles, and that money isn’t going away, right?” he said. “Even though there was uncertainty, there’s still more money, so certainly it was good news to see that all-time high.”

Pennington said given reports on schools struggling to fill teacher and substitute openings this year, the department is interested in seeing the report on this year’s numbers.

The average teacher salary for the 2020-2021 school year was up more than $600.

Overall, Pennington said the report will help educators and other stakeholders see what is working for Iowa schools and what isn’t.

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