Chronic absenteeism, poor test scores, and families struggling to get by are major issues cited in a new report illustrating Michigan’s continued decline.

The 2024 Kids Count Data Book released on Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Michigan League for Public Policy shows Michigan slipped two spots from last year in the measure of child well-being, with the state now ranked 34th among states overall.

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The report examined 16 indicators to offer rankings in four areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors – as well as an overall ranking.

In education, Michigan ranked 41st based on 2021-22 data, the worst among the four categories.

“We have fewer than half of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool, just 1 in 4 fourth graders (are) proficient in reading, the same with eighth-grade math,” Anne Kuhnen, Kids Count policy director for the MLPP, told Michigan Advance. “I think one area that’s a concerning decline is when we look at the share of high school students who are not graduating on time. We’ve had improvements in this area for basically a decade, so it’s disappointing to see that worsen.”

Michigan’s chronic absenteeism rate is 10 percentage points higher than the national average at 40%, while about 20% of high-schoolers do not graduate on time. The 72% of fourth graders who cannot read at grade level is up 6% from 2019, while the 75% of eighth-graders who scored below proficient in math is up 9%.

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MLPP President Monique Stanton blamed those troubling statistics on poverty and trauma.

“Here in Michigan, 18% of our state’s children are living in poverty, which is slightly above the national average, and nearly half of our state’s kids have gone through at least one adverse childhood experience,” she said in a statement cited by WILX. “These findings underscore the importance of strengthening Michigan families and mitigating childhood poverty through bold state policy decisions so that all of our kids have the solid foundations they need to be present and successful in their classrooms.”

Michigan data in every education measure was worse than the national average, and worse than before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office.

For economic well-being, the data book ranked Michigan 31st, with categories including “children whose parents lack secure employment,” “children living in households with high housing cost burden,” and “teens not in school and not working” worse than in 2019. The 18% of “children in poverty” was the only statistic in that category to remain the same.

Michigan’s best ranking came in the health category with a 22nd place finish, though the 9.2% of low birth-weight babies is up from 2019, as is the 28 “child and teen deaths per 100,000.” The 35% of Michigan teens who are obese is 2% higher than the national average, while the 3% without health insurance is slightly better than 5% nationwide.

The only area where Michigan improved was family and community, with the number of children in single-parent families, living in high-poverty areas, and teen births per 1,000 better than in the past. Those improvements largely tracked with national trends. The 8% of Michigan children in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma stayed the same between 2019 and 2022, floating about 3% lower than the nation as a whole.

The report is only the latest to document Michigan’s continued decline since Whitmer took office in 2019, with other reports on education highlighting a similar dynamic.

In April, the state slid to 31st nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best high schools, which used 2021-22 data on college readiness, college curriculum breadth, state assessment proficiency, state assessment performance, underserved student performance, and graduation rate.

“Michigan ranked 31st in a comparison of states with the highest percentage of top-ranked public high schools, dropping five spots from its ranking last year of 26th when it tied with Kentucky,” according to the news site.

The same site’s “Best States” ranking, which ranked Michigan 42nd overall, pointed to data that shows Michigan students have below average math test scores, are less likely to graduate high school, and leave college with more debt, when compared to the national average.

The abysmal performance from Michigan students in recent years is tied in large part Whitmer pandemic edicts that kept the state’s students out of the classroom far longer than in other states.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which samples fourth- and eighth-grade students nationwide, shows a direct correlation between time spent in remote or hybrid instruction during the 2020-21 school year and student performance, even when accounting for other factors like poverty, according to analysis from The New York Times.

“The most recent test scores, from spring 2023, show that students, overall, are not caught up from their pandemic losses, with larger gaps remaining among students that lost the most ground to begin with,” according to the Times. “Students in districts that were remote or hybrid the longest — at least 90 percent of the 2020-21 school year — still had almost double the ground to make up compared with students in districts that allowed students back for most of the year.”

The dynamic in Michigan was evident in a February report by researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities that showed despite statewide achievement increasing by 7% of a grade level in math and 1% in reading over the last year, full recovery from the pandemic could take decades, The Detroit News reports.

In districts like Kalamazoo, Lansing, Detroit, Portage and Ann Arbor, where unions pushed to delay in-person instruction, students remain 80% of a grade behind 2019 achievement levels in math. In many rural districts that reopened more quickly, math scores have already eclipsed pre-pandemic levels, according to the Education Recovery Scorecard that tracks performance in 30 states.

NEAP data shows Whitmer’s unilateral decision to close schools to in-person learning contributed to fourth-grade reading scores plummeting from 32nd nationally in 2019 to 43rd in 2022.