Iowa’s student enrollment is up. But the total is still below pre-COVID levels

Trisha Jones, holds her son, Keyton Baker’s hand, as they walk up to Wilder Elementary on the first day of school, on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Indianola. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

By Brad Vidmar, Des Moines Register

Iowa’s public schools saw a boost in enrollment this fall but the number of students in classrooms is still below pre-pandemic levels, new state data found.

The state’s 327 school districts reported an increase of 1,472 students compared to the previous academic year, the Iowa Department of Education said Monday in a news release. In total, 485,630 students are attending an Iowa public school year this year — an increase of 0.30%.


But this year’s count is still less than the 490,094 students counted for the 2019-2020 school year — a difference of 4,464 students or a decrease of 0.91%. The count is also nearly one percentage point less than the state’s projected estimate of 489,304 students.

Schools across the United States have grappled with similar losses in students since the coronavirus pandemic upended learning and schools shut down in March 2020. Schools nationwide lost nearly 3 million students between 2019 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census.

More:Last school year brought more diversity among fewer K-12 students in Iowa


The state’s enrollment numbers are used by the state to determine funding for schools and can differ slightly from the actual headcount of students enrolled in a district.

Monday’s report shows enrollment increased in 169 school districts, representing 52% of all public school districts throughout the state.

Waukee had the largest increase for fall 2021 with 616 students — or 5.3% — and the following districts had the following increases:


Ankeny, 406 students (or 3.4%)

Pleasant Valley, 201 students (or 3.9%)

Clear Creek Amana,124 students (or 4.6%)

Dallas Center-Grimes,128 students (or 3.8%)

Norwalk, 148 students (or 4.6%)

Ames, 72 students (or 1.6%)

Southeast Polk, 116 students (or 1.7%)

Bondurant-Farrar, 116 students (or 4.9%)

Iowa City, 274 students (or 1.9%)


Cedar Falls, 112 students (or 2.0%)

But the report also shows some of the state’s largest districts experienced decreases in certified enrollment numbers.

Des Moines Public Schools had the largest decrease, with 779 less students than in last year, a 2.5% decrease. The following districts also experienced decreases:

Council Bluffs, 212 students (or 2.5%)

Dubuque, 207 students (or 2.1%)

Cedar Rapids, 166 students (or 1.1%)

Mason City, 92 students (or 2.7%)

Muscatine, 67 students (or 1.5%)

Nevada, 38 students (or 2.6%)

Creston,19 students (or 1.4%)

South Tama, 51 students (or 3.5%)

Davenport, 229 students (or 1.6%)


Pre-K, ninth grade and kindergarten classes had the largest increases at 2,019, 1,102 and 916 students.

The number of English learners also increased to 31,681, up from 30,410 last year, with approximately 74% of the increased enrollment in English learners is from students whose home language is Spanish, according to the report.

The report also shows fewer students have enrolled in home-schooling assistance programs for the previous school year.

A total of 7,707 students were enrolled in fall 2021 compared to 8,735 in fall 2020.

In a home school assistance program, students receive some services from local school districts. Iowa also allows for home-schooling through competent private instruction and independent private instruction, meaning that not all families use the home school assistance program.

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