Why We Need to Get Out the Count

Type: Article
Topics: Advocacy & Policy, Equity, School Administrator Magazine

May 01, 2019

My View

I remember clearly the first time I filled out my own census form. It was for the 2000 census, and I was an economics graduate student. Completing the form represented adulthood to me. I also was a fond user of census data for research, so it was thrilling to think of myself as a data point supporting social science for generations to come.

I realize this is a weird view. My roommate then, an architecture student, didn’t share my excitement so I got to fill out the form on behalf of our household.

Twenty years later, with plenty of forms to fill out at all times, the decennial census no longer makes me feel adult, but it does make me feel like an active participant in our democracy. The census will be different this year, but it still is critically important — and underappreciated — for democracy and public schools.

New for 2020

Census Day will be next April 1. By then, households will have received invitations to respond. For the first time, an online response is an option, though everyone also can choose to respond by mail or by phone. While you can’t respond until March 2020, you can go to 2020census.gov and sign up for an e-mail reminder now.

AASA joined other professional education organizations in filing an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case, emphasizing the importance of accurate census data in ensuring federal dollars are distributed as intended.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s justification for adding a citizenship question was inadequate. Ultimately, the administration ordered the Census Bureau to proceed with the printing process without a citizenship question.

What’s the Same

The census basics haven’t changed. Governance relies on the decennial census at the federal, state and local levels, and it only works with participation.

The census is the engine of our representative democracy. The U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial “actual enumeration” of the entire population. All people must be count-ed. This is how we determine how many seats in the House of Representatives — and how much representation in the electoral college — each state gets.

The population counts from the decennial census, at the state and local levels, also are used to determine the allocation of federal funds from many programs across policy areas as diverse as education, health and transportation. Within K-12 education, Title I and IDEA funding both depend on school district counts of the school-aged population. And because these programs aren’t fully funded by the Congress, some of the federal funds flowing to school communities that effectively get out the count will come from other districts that were less successful at getting their residents counted. In other words, you need to get out the count just to protect the federal money you have.

Participation is mandatory. It is illegal not to respond.

Privacy is protected. Respondents must understand that other agencies, including immigration authorities, cannot access information provided to the census. It is a felony for census employees to share information.

Educators’ Steps

Much discussion centers on the political issues related to the 2020 census, ranging from immigration to gerrymandering. But getting your community’s adults and children counted so your public schools can receive their fair share of federal money is not a political statement. It’s simply responsible leadership.

Share this information to help get out the census count early next year and encourage residents of your school communities to organize. 2020census.gov has lots of information, including how to join a local Complete Count Committee or form a school partnership with the Census Bureau.


Nora Gordon
About the Author

Nora Gordon is associate professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

   Nora Gordon