What school board members should know about the U.S. Census

Next year’s U.S. Census, known as Census 2020, will be the 24th decennial census.  National Census Day, the reference day used for the census count, will be April 1, 2020.

The census provides a snapshot of national, state and local demographics. The data collected help the federal government decide where to focus its attention and resources (i.e., funding).  For that reason, ensuring an accurate census count is important for states and schools.

Studies suggest that states can lose between $1,000 and $1,300 for each person not counted.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is the federal agency responsible for conducting the census, the goal of which is to count each person one time and in one place, typically where the individual sleeps most nights.  Historically, children under the age of 5, the elderly, and people without a fixed residence (e.g., homeless) have been among the population groups most likely not to be counted.  Language barriers can also result in undercounting.

An accurate count is particularly important for schools because significant amounts of federal education funding are distributed largely based on census and other population data, including funding for ESSA Title 1 programs for disadvantaged students, IDEA for students with disabilities or other special needs students and Head Start programs.

The two biggest allocations of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education to the states based on their census count and the number of children living in school districts are Title I aid for disadvantaged students, which totaled $15.8 billion in fiscal year 2018, and special education grants to states, which was $12.3 billion in fiscal year 2018.  An inaccurate count could mean fewer federal funds in these two programs for Wisconsin and for your school district.

Beyond funding for schools, billions of federal dollars flow to states each year based on their census counts and population data, through programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, as well as programs intended to build or improve infrastructure, including transportation infrastructure, and programs that provide for emergency preparedness, disaster relief and many others.

The census count is also used to re-draw political boundaries for congressional, legislative and local districts. Results of the 2020 census will determine the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives, as well as the number of delegates for each state in the Electoral College for presidential elections in 2022, 2026 and 2030.

The federal government undertakes to count every living person in the U.S. and its territories once each decade. This counting process, required by the U. S. Constitution, and referred to as the U.S. Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. Participation is required by federal law.

Read More:  U.S. Census Bureau Pamphlet–Census 101: What You Need to Know

This is the first in a series of posts providing background information on the 2020 Census.