Chronic absenteeism doubled in these 9 states during the pandemic

And levels grew in every other state as families took matters into their own hands to ensure their child's needs were met, whether academically or emotionally.

School districts are in for a world of headaches—otherwise labeled “the bloodletting”—in terms of funding, posits Marguerite Roza, director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, who time and time again cautions education leaders about their spending habits as they continue to leverage ESSER funds to bolster their teacher workforce amid declining student enrollment. But where have the students gone?

“Districts now have more staff than ever and fewer students,” Roza said during a webinar in June. “So what happens next? That’s an unusual place for us to be. We’re new to it. That means there are changes afoot.”

What should be no surprise to anyone is that the pandemic is what caused significant declines in student enrollment for many school districts. And the latest available data might help shed more light on the issue, which leaders should consider as they plan to use the last of their pandemic relief funds.

New research from Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford University, in partnership with the Associated Press, reveals just how severe chronic absenteeism levels were during the 2021-22 school year compared to 2018-19.

According to the data, chronic absenteeism levels (students who missed at least 10% of the school year) rose in every state. Nine states in particular (New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, California, Mississippi, Massachusetts Texas, Iowa and Connecticut) saw their chronic absenteeism rates double in 2021-22 compared to 2018-19. As Dee suggests in his research, this is due to a multitude of reasons.

“Between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, U.S. public schools experienced historically unprecedented enrollment declines of 2.3 percent,” the research reads. “This decline, which varied considerably across states, was related to actors such as demographic change, a response to remote-only instruction, and a shift to private and homeschooling.”

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Several states saw severe levels of chronic absenteeism during the pandemic, with nearly half of their students missing at least 10% of the school year. Alaska, for example, saw absenteeism rates rise from 29% in 2018-19 to 49% in 2021-22. Washington, D.C. followed quickly as levels reached 48% at its worst.

“The evidence presented here suggests the imperative both to understand the sources of the rise in chronic absenteeism and to address it with well-implements, evidence-based policies and practices,” reads Dee’s research. “Intervention studies suggest that chronic absenteeism can be reduced through both preventative school-wide efforts and more intensive and targeted initiatives that identify and support chronically absent students.”

Here’s a full look at the state-by-state data Dee compiled in his research (Note: some states were excluded due to missing data and varying definitions of chronic absenteeism):

Chronic absenteeism rates in 2021-22 vs. 2018-19

  • Alaska (49%, +20%)
  • District of Columbia (48%, +18%)
  • New Mexico (40%, +22%)
  • Michigan (36%, +19%)
  • Oregon (36%, +16%)
  • Nevada (36%, +17%)
  • Colorado (36%, +13%)
  • Arizona (34%, +21%)
  • Rhode Island (34%, +15%)
  • Washington (33%, +18%)
  • New York (33%, +14%)
  • Florida (32%, +12%)
  • North Carolina (31%, +15%)
  • Maryland (31%, +11%)
  • Ohio (30%, +13%)
  • California (30%, +18%)
  • Illinois (30%, +12%)
  • West Virginia (29%, +9%)
  • Maine (28%, +11%)
  • Mississippi (28%, +15%)
  • Massachusetts (28%, +15%)
  • Kentucky (28%, +10%)
  • Utah (27%, +13%)
  • Pennsylvania (26%, +11%)
  • Arkansas (26%, +4%)
  • Texas (26%, +15%)
  • Iowa (26%, +13%)
  • Delaware (25%, +12%)
  • Georgia (24%, +11%)
  • Nebraska (24%, +9%)
  • Missouri (24%, +11%)
  • Connecticut (24%, +14%)
  • Wisconsin (23%, +10%)
  • North Dakota (22%, +10%)
  • South Dakota (22%, +8%)
  • Indiana (21%, +10%)
  • Idaho (21%, +10%)
  • Tennessee (20%, +7%)
  • Oklahoma (20%, +6%)
  • New Jersey (18%, +7%)
  • Alabama (18%, +7%)
Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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