Last school year brought more diversity among fewer K-12 students in Iowa, new report finds

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Iowa's latest annual report on the condition of its public school system has caught up with the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it confirms a previously reported drop in enrollment, the new report also shows changes that don't seem to align with the challenges schools are facing as the pandemic continues.

The "Annual Condition of Education" report, released Friday by the Iowa Department of Education, includes a drop in the number of certified enrolled pre-K-12 public school students for the first time in 10 years. In the 2020-21 school year, which the report reflects, statewide enrollment shrank by almost 6,000 since the 2019-20 school year.

Certified enrollment is used to determine funding for schools and differs slightly from the actual head count of students enrolled. The state education department first reported the certified enrollment drop last year.

While there were fewer students, Iowa had an increase in the number of teachers last year. According to a news release from the education department on Friday, there were 38,022 full-time public school teachers last school year, compared to 37,567 in 2019-20.

That stands in contrast to districts' widespread reports this year of difficulties in hiring enough teachers. Teacher shortages were a chronic problem before the pandemic, but whether by increased absences since last year or by more teachers having left the profession entirely, schools across Iowa this year report they're dealing with staffing shortages.

Saydel High School closed for a day last month because there was not enough staff.

More: An Iowa high school closed Friday because there weren't enough adults — it's a nationwide problem

In Ames, building and district office administrators have had to work as substitutes.

Heather Doe, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education, said final numbers are not yet in for the current school year — she did not answer whether the increase in the number of teachers last year is a trend that's continued, or whether students who left school last year have come back.

The state's Annual Condition of Education report also tracks demographic, academic achievement and other information about schools.

Among the changes found between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years:

  • Iowa's public schools became more diverse, with the share of students from minority populations growing from 25.7% to 26.1%. Groups counted as minorities include African American, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic students.

  • The percent of Iowa students whose native language is not English decreased from 6.5% to 6.3%.

  • The percent of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches decreased from 42.4% to 41.8%.

  • Fewer students took Advanced Placement courses, down from 54.3% to 51.7%. A few less students also took higher-level math classes such as calculus, statistics and trigonometry, down from 48.8% to 48.6%.

The latest report and previous ones through 1998 are available online at educateiowa.gov/data-reporting/education-statistics/annual-condition-education-report-pk-12.

An online data tool companion with district-level information is also available at reports.educateiowa.gov/coe/home/index.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Fewer students in Iowa schools, more diversity, 2020-21 report finds