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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Census Undercounts Lead To Underfunded Schools

Elementary age, African American girl holds mom or teacher’s hand before school begins. She wears a backpack and clings to mom with uncertainty about starting school.

By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium

Did you know that your participation in the 2020 Census could impact your child’s education? The data compiled from the 2020 Census will be used to determine Federal budgets for education and resources like free lunch, special education, and after-school programs and how much Federal funding will be allocated to your local school district.

By now, every household in the Unites States should have received a letter from the U.S. Census inviting them to participate in the 2020 Census either online, by phone or by mail. The survey has 10 questions relating to your marital status, place of residence, age and the number of people who live in your household.

One of the main purposes of the Census is to allocate legislative seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state. The seats are allocated by population, so the larger the population of a state as determined by the census will determine how many seats they have in Congress. However, the census has also become an invaluable tool for the government to understand the people it is created to serve and how to fund critical services to communities across the country.

Every 10 years the US census counts every resident in the United States. Based on the number of children in various communities through the census, Federal funds are allocated to help states fund education and education related programs.

Unfortunately, many urban areas and diverse communities across the country have been historically under-counted by the census, and subsequently their schools have been underfunded and unable to adequately meet the educational needs of these communities. Advocates say this is one of the main reasons why we see so many disparities in education, including access to proper resources like books, teachers, transportation and the poor condition of buildings.

In 2006 and 2009, Seattle Public Schools were facing budget shortfalls of $21 million and $25 million, respectively. In a cost savings attempt to balance its budget, Seattle Public Schools closed seven schools in 2006, including Martin Luther King Elementary School, and five additional schools in 2009, that included T.T. Minor and Van Asselt. The closures, according to advocates, disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities, as the city saw the closing of school buildings that historically served these communities.

Sakara Remmu, who currently is the project manager for the Demand to be Counted 2020 Census Project for Washington state, served as education chair of the Seattle King County NAACP during the school closure process in Seattle. Remmu notes that these school closures and other educational disparities are directly related to inaccurate population statistics that stem from undercounts in the census.

“When we were fighting against school closures the [Seattle School] district’s main argument, besides ‘we can’t afford it,’ were the projected enrollment numbers for the next 10 to 20 years,” says Remmu.

Remmu recalls that, based on census data, the school district believed that people in the areas served by these schools were not having children, and therefore made decisions to close the schools because they believed that there would not be enough students to fill the building in the coming years. Fast forward to today and it appears that the enrollment numbers are exceeding the projections of district officials at the time.

“Ten years later, they (school district officials) were like ‘where did all these children come from? We need to open these buildings,” says Remmu.

“Today, we see that schools serving African American and other students of color right here in Washington state, don’t have enough free and reduced lunch, lack nursing and social work staff, or don’t have enough teachers or textbooks, or funding to offer advanced classes, music, art or job preparedness skills training,” added Remmu. “All of these things are connected to the census, and that’s why making sure our children are counted is extremely important to underserved communities.”

The National Education Association (NEA) is also concerned about the accuracy of the census and how it can affect educational spending.

“Census data is the foundation for allocation of billions of dollars of federal education aid to states and localities using formulas that factor in population and poverty levels. An accurate census is key to schools getting the funding they need to serve every child who walks through their doors,” reads a statement from the organization about the 2020 Census. “We only have one shot every 10 years to get the census right. Students are counting on us.”

Representation is what Democracy is about, one person, one vote and it is essential that each person value that responsible if the financial and social well-being of a community is to be achieved and the census is a tool that aids in this endeavor.

How do we want to see the future for our children? Education is paramount in securing a head start in this unpredictable world and it is up to us, the community, to make sure the table is set.

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