RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A recent report by a Virginia watchdog agency has detailed the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Virginia’s public K-12 education and has found a grim state of affairs for students and teachers.

The report was released on Monday, Nov. 7, and was conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) — a nonpartisan group of analysts and legislators. The conclusion of the report urges lawmakers to boost education funding to address numerous issues.

In addition to previous reports of declining academic achievement, this new study also found that there were major issues relating to absenteeism and mental health issues among students.

(Courtesy of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission)

About 19% of students statewide were chronically absent — missing 10% or more days — in the 2021-2022 school year, according to the report. While quarantines contributed to the increased absenteeism, school staff reportedly indicated other factors contributed as well.

The report also found that 10% of middle school students and 13% of high school students had contemplated suicide. In addition, 3% of middle school students and 4% of high school students indicated they had attempted suicide, according to the report.

As for Virginia’s teachers, the report found that morale and job satisfaction were much lower than they had been before the pandemic. This unhappiness may have led to two other findings in the report — an exodus from a shrinking workforce and a lack of qualifications and preparedness.

(Courtesy of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission)

JLARC’s report analyzed data from the Virginia Department of Education that had been collected from 111 divisions in August 2022. The data showed approximately 3,300 teacher vacancies in just those 111 divisions — a 25% increase from the vacancies reported by these same divisions in October 2021.

With the issues identified, JLARC laid out a number of recommended actions to try and steer Virginia education away from crisis.

Recommended legislative action described in the report includes:

  • Amending the Code of Virginia to allow qualified, licensed psychologists to be provisionally licensed as school psychologists.
  • Creating and funding a temporary math improvement program for elementary students who fail to pass their math Standards of Learning test.
  • Providing temporary funding to hire more instructional assistants to aid teachers with classroom management and students with individualized instruction.
  • Providing temporary funding to help with hiring more teachers — including targeted recruitment bonuses and tuition assistance for provisionally licensed teachers to become fully licensed.

Recommended executive action described in the report includes:

  • Finalizing the model memorandum of understanding to interested divisions partner with community mental health providers.
  • Developing a standard template plan for divisions to use in the event of future prolonged periods of remote instruction.
  • Developing courses related to teaching remotely or using virtual learning resources.

JLARC conducted the study through interviews, focus groups and surveys, according to the report. The full report can be read here.