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(The Center Square) – In its 2021 Report Card, the Illinois State Board of Education says the COVID-19 Pandemic had a significant impact on Illinois schools last school year.

The data reveals lower enrollment numbers, higher rates of absenteeism, and lower rates of ninth grades on track to graduate.

During a webinar this week, state superintendent of schools Carmen Ayala said remote learning took its toll.

“This past school year bore the brunt of the pandemic,” said Ayala. “More than 90% of Illinois students started the school year without access to fully in-person learning.”

Illinois schools have received more than $7 billion in federal funding to address the impact of the pandemic. ISBE said it has directed pandemic relief funding to close the digital divide, provide mental health supports to students and educators, and help students transition to college after graduation.

Researcher Brenda Dixon says enrollment in Illinois schools was down 6% from the year before.

“Total enrollment continued to decline last year with nearly 70,000 fewer students enrolling in Illinois public schools statewide,” Dixon said.

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The numbers were more dramatic for younger students. Pre-K enrollment was down 17%, and kindergarten enrollment fell 8% from the year before.

Chronic absenteeism also was a problem. One in five Illinois students was chronically absent last year, missing 10% or more of the school year, a 21% increase over 2019.

Graduation rates remained steady at 86% which was close to the national average, but graduation rates for Blacks were 77%, which was 4% lower than the national average.

The rate of ninth-grade students on track to graduate dipped 5% from 2019 to 2021, reflecting an increase in students receiving failing grades. ISBE said it will use $25 million in federal funds to institute a statewide tutoring program.

Dixon said statistics show the teacher shortage is softening with fewer positions open, and salaries spiked.

“Teacher pay increased with teachers earning $70,705 on average in 2021, 3.9% more than in 2020 and the largest percentage increase in recent years,” Dixon.

A law enacted in 2019 to raise the minimum teacher salary took effect last year.

- Kevin Bessler
Staff Reporter
The Center Square

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