Counting and Kids

Lisa S. Romero is an Associate Professor at the California State University Sacramento.

Amid all the excitement about the 2020 election, you might have missed a bit of news that has very broad consequences for our nation’s schools and students. In October, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to halt the 2020 Census count.  Its ruling effectively ended the count of what is supposed to be every person in the nation. This is not trivial because it means that some people, in some states, were less likely to be counted than others.  Undercounting has very real implications for funding for schools and students, and for reapportionment and the electoral college.

Undercounting: Who’s Likely to be Undercounted and Why?

Some states, like California, are more likely to have its population undercounted. Why? The state has a more mobile population which is harder to find, and therefore harder to count. This includes people who don’t own homes and move from one apartment to another, and migrant and seasonal workers who move around the state following jobs. We can add to this a higher rate of homelessness in some states. If you drive down the road and see folks living in tents along the right-of-way, there is some good reason to think they may not have been counted.

And, in states with higher immigrant populations, an undercount is also more likely. In this case, people may be afraid to answer official requests for information because of their visa status. Compare California with an immigrant population of about 27% with that of Idaho, at about 6%, and it becomes clear why this is more of an issue for a state like California. Overall, people who are most likely to be missing from Census counts are renters, Natives Americans, Latinos, Blacks, young children, and limited English speakers.

The Census and Funding for Students and Schools

The Census has broad ramifications for schools and especially for students from low income families. Census data determines the distribution of:

  • More than $14 billion in Title I grants that help schools that serve 24 million plus students from low-income families
  • Nearly $30 billion in Pell grant funding for low income college students
  • $11.3 billion in special education grants to the states
  • About $19 billion for the National School Lunch Program
  • $8.5 billion for Head Start preschool programs
  • Plus, funding to support Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities, grants to improve teacher quality, funding for career and technical education, and the list goes on.

Reapportionment and The Electoral College

Census counts are also the basis for reapportionment, a fancy word for determining how many Members of Congress each state is allocated.  By law, the U.S House of Representatives has 435 members.  Every ten years, Census data is used to determine of how many Members of Congress will be allocated to each state, and thus which states will gain representation, and which states will lose representation. Undercounting in any state therefore leads to a disproportionate loss of representation in Congress. It also determines how many Electoral College votes each state has, which as we all know well by now, is how the outcome of Presidential elections are determined. After this Census, California and New York are expected to lose Electoral College votes, while States like Texas and Florida are expected to gain.

This is the reason that states work to boost Census participation and the reason that many states fought the action of the Trump administration to stop the count. Sadly, this Census was mired in political division.  But even more sadly, it will be students who suffer from a Census made political, and a Census ended prematurely.  We can and should do better for America’s youth.

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