How the 2020 Census could impact local schools

By NICOLE SMITH
Posted 2/21/20

Local school systems are making an effort to ensure an accurate 2020 Census count to benefit children and families in Walker County.

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How the 2020 Census could impact local schools

Posted

Local school systems are making an effort to ensure an accurate 2020 Census count to benefit children and families in Walker County.

Information on the Alabama Counts! website, a statewide initiative aimed at 2020 Census completion, explains how funding for education is influenced by census data.

"A full and accurate count is critical for Alabama's schools because many of the federal programs that support public schools, their students, and families distribute money to the state based on statistics," as noted on the Alabama Counts! website. "An undercount or drop in census numbers for Alabama will mean less funding allocated to the state and — as an extension — to your schools."

According to the Alabama Community College System's website, the census has a number of impacts on education, including funding that supports general education efforts, special education programs and students with disabilities. Funding for nutritional lunch services (free and reduced lunch) for low-income families is also impacted by census findings.  

The Alabama Counts! website describes in further detail that census data impacts Title I grants to local education agencies, which help high-poverty schools. Census data can also determine state funding for WIC and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

"Every program that we have that federal funds are allocated to are going to be based on the results of that census," Steve Rowe, administrative assistant for Walker County Schools, said.

Rowe added that with an accurate census count, population trends can be taken into account to allocate educational resources to particular areas. Census data will also help school systems determine if all children are being served. 

"The census is probably going to be the most accurate assessment of our community that we're going to get for a little while," he said. "We should be able to count the number of children in Walker County to be able to see if we are serving all of the children that live here. For example, we can see how many children are 6 years old in Walker County and how many of them go to our schools. If there's a discrepancy there, then we can look and see why that is."

Officials with Jasper City Schools are working to also make sure every child is counted, in particular, students from undocumented families.

"One of the things we've had issues with in Alabama is our undocumented citizens. We have to serve those children. If they are in our city, whether they are legal or illegal, we have to serve them," Jasper City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson explained. "It's so important that those kids be counted, otherwise it creates a hardship when you're really serving more kids than what your funding is based on."

Kerri Trawick, assistant principal of Jasper City Schools' alternative school, said the parents of ESL (English as a second language) children will be notified of the importance of census completion. Trawick said undocumented families should not fear repercussions from completing the census. 

"They're not tracking your personal data. They're just tracking that you're counted," Trawick said.

Officials with Walker County and Jasper City schools have voiced their intent to send home census materials with students to encourage household completion and make sure all children are counted.   

The United States Census 2020 website states that newborn babies and children under 5 years old are often missed in the census.

"Last year in Walker County, we lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding, and it was all because of kids that just weren't counted," Trawick said. "In the state of Alabama, there were 17,000 children under 5 that were not counted. It's important that we get all children accounted for." 

Rowe said other efforts are going to be rolled out in the coming weeks to encourage census participation.

"We want to do our part to help make sure that the word gets out that the census is taking place this year. We're going to do lots of different things with social media posts, PTO meetings, kindergarten registrations and all that kind of stuff to help people know that it's coming," he said. 

Trawick said census flyers in English and Spanish will be placed in Jasper City schools and information will be available on the school system's website and social media channels. Census handouts will be sent home with students, and in March and April, there will be designated times where parents will be invited to schools to use computers in order to complete the census.    

While parents are being targeted to complete the census, students are going to be educated on its importance as well.  

The Statistics in Schools program is offering free materials for teachers to educate Pre-K through 12th-grade youth about the census. There's also a number of activities available for children on the United States Census 2020 website.

In mid-March, households will begin receiving applications to complete the census. People will have the option to complete the 2020 Census online for the first time in census history, and people may also traditionally mail census responses or talk to a census representative over the phone to complete the process.  

Census takers will visit households in May, June and July that have not responded to census mailings.        

Early census results are expected to be released in March 2021.    

"If the population numbers are down from the previous census, it could mean less allocation in some areas, and obviously, if it's more, it could mean more," Rowe said. "We just need it to be accurate so we get the funding we deserve."