Common Good Iowa

Lost progress: Chronic school absenteeism in Iowa

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 11:19 AM by Anne Discher

New report shows 1 in 4 Iowa students are chronically absent from school as Iowa loses its top rank on high school graduation

Iowa ranks seventh in child well-being, according to the 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how kids are faring in post-pandemic America. Despite a relatively high overall ranking, the data show Iowa leaders must do more to prepare children to learn so they are ready to earn when they reach adulthood.

graphic -- Iowa rankings, 2024 Kids Count Data BookIn its 35th year of publication, this year’s Data Book focuses on students’ lack of basic reading and math skills, a problem decades in the making but brought to light by the focus on learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented drops in learning from 2019 to 2022 (the most recent years for which data are available) amounted to decades of lost progress. Chronic absence has soared, with children living in poverty especially unable to resume their school day routines on a regular basis.

More than 1 in 4 Iowa students — 26% — were chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year.  Nearly 2 in 5 Iowa children — 38% — experienced at least one adverse childhood experience that is linked with health and learning challenges.

Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall. Iowa’s results in the education domain show the challenges the state faces meeting the needs of PK-12 students. Especially notable is Iowa’s high-school graduation rank; it’s the first time the state is not first in high school graduation since 2010-11 school year.

Education indicators


Iowa rank

Iowa Pct

U.S. Pct

High schoolers not graduating on time

(8-way tie)



8th graders not proficient in math




4th graders not proficient in reading




3- and 4-year-olds not in preschool




The report contends that the pandemic is not the sole cause of lower test scores: U.S. scores in reading and math have barely budged in decades. Compared to peer nations, the United States is not equipping its children with the high-level reading, math and digital problem-solving skills needed for many of today’s fastest-growing occupations in a highly competitive global economy.

Instead of focusing on tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Iowans, Iowa lawmakers should prioritize the needs of all our children. While lawmakers this year did address reading curricula, they are falling short of funding our public schools at a level that keeps up with rising needs and costs and are leaving on the table an array of other proven options adopted by other states to set children up for school success.

Those include policies like expanding the period young children remain eligible for Medicaid to help make sure they start school healthy, providing free school meals so no child is learning on an empty stomach, and boosting the minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2007, so families have more resources to help kids get to school every day.

To get kids back on track in the short term, we must make sure they arrive at the classroom ready to learn by ensuring a reliable internet connection, a place to study and time with friends, teachers and counselors. We should expand access to intensive tutoring for students who are behind in their classes and missing academic milestones. And finally, we must address chronic absence, using positive approaches, so more students return to learn.


Anne Discher is Executive Director of Common Good Iowa. Contact:


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