Education News

The 2020 census could make or break your public schools. Here’s why.

By Amanda Litvinov

It’s the biggest event of the summer. More than $800 billion are on the line. No, it’s not the biggest lottery jackpot ever. It’s the 2020 census.

The census aims to count every person living in the United States and collect their demographic data. This information guides all kinds of important decisions, including how many congressional representatives each state gets, and how state and local governments spend resources.

Those spending decisions include school funding. 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. But that accuracy is now imperiled after the Trump administration hastily added a question about citizenship.

We only have one shot every 10 years to get the census right. Students are counting on us to get the job done. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can help:

Why is the census so critical to public schools?

Census data determines the distribution of:

  • More than $14 billion in Title I grants that help schools serve more than 24 million students from low-income families;
  • $11.3 billion in special education grants to the states;
  • About $13.6 billion for the National School Lunch Program;
  • Plus funds for the Head Start preschool program and grants to improve teacher quality.

Data from and reflects 2015 distributions.

All told, more than 130 critical government programs serving primarily low-income people use census data to allocate more than $675 billion, research shows.  This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which keeps millions of families out of poverty and has lasting benefits for children’s health and academic success.

If some groups aren’t accurately represented in the census, it will be more difficult for their states to cover the needs that exist in their communities. The schools their children attend will be underfunded, and the resulting lack of resources can negatively affect all students in the school.

Why does the citizenship question threaten the accuracy of the census?

Experts have long realized that including a citizenship question lowers the response rate.

Some immigrants, regardless of their legal status, might be afraid to participate in the census. It results in the undercounting of communities of color, particularly Hispanic households.

Terri Ann Lowenthal was the staff director of the House Subcommittee on Census and Population from 1987 to 1994, and she now advises several human and civil rights groups fighting for a fair census. Lowenthal says given Trump’s harsh immigration policies, it is “understandable that many immigrants are fearful that this administration might circumvent the law and get its hands on census data and use it to harm people, or deport people.”

How would an inaccurate census count negatively affect public schools?

Undercounting communities of color will mean the public schools serving those communities will not receive adequate resources.

Young children are already at high risk of not being counted, research shows.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation notes that the 2010 census “had the worst undercount since 1950, with nearly 5 percent of children under age 5—about 1 million kids—not counted.”

The problem would only be compounded in 2020 by a citizenship question that discourages participation.

“Job one is to do everything we can to support an accurate census,” says NEA Senior Counsel Emma Leheny. “It’s the first step in understanding the needs of the next generation of school-age children.”

 Who is fighting for the integrity of the 2020 census?

Several states, including California and New York, are suing the Trump Administration over its decision to include the citizenship question.

A case called Department of Commerce v. State of New York was fast-tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose nine justices will determine whether the citizenship question is constitutional or not. The National Education Association has signed onto the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights amicus brief along with 175 other grassroots, advocacy, labor, legal services, education, and faith-based organizations.

Oral arguments were heard on April 23. The court is expected to make its determination before the end of June so that census forms can be prepared.

What can I do to help?

Talk to your family, coworkers, and friends about what is at stake in the census. Use the hashtag #CountMeIn when you post on social media about why you oppose the inclusion of the citizenship question.

Sign the pledge and find out more ways to get involved at

14 responses to “The 2020 census could make or break your public schools. Here’s why.

  1. The census needs to cover everyone who resides in this country.
    There must be no exceptions or its fraudulent.

  2. Everyone is making a big deal out of nothing! As a genealogist I have discovered that many years have included the question of citizenship — genealogists in the future will appreciate this question. I also don’t remember having to include our name on past censuses. If it is required, make up a name! My goodness people — settle down!

  3. Maybe the question is an attack on education. It is also possible that this is an attempt by the federal government to get local governments to fall in line with the current administrations agenda. The message I see in the inclusion of a citizenship question is “stop enabling non-citizens by giving them access to our public education system.” The administration knows it will lead to under funded schools. As has occured in the past the federal government is using funding as a carrot for local governments policy compliance.

  4. We must not allow a citizenship question on the 2020Census form because it would result in cuts to federal support of education. The proposal to include a citizenship question is one of many attacks being made on education by the Trump administration. It must not be allowed to happen.

    1. It is not an attack from President Trump and his administration. The citizenship question has generally been on/off the census and it is def on the ACS. The United States NEEDS to know who is in their country. We can still provide help and aid to people who come here legally but we must put our county and our citizens first. Quit trying to destroy is by putting your uneducated opinions out there. Our educational system has been shot by Democrats who took it over years ago and are brainwashing our kids. They are producing angry, and uneducated kids who spew hate and violence. If you don’t like this country, get out.

  5. I believe taking the census is important not only for our public schools but our voting rights. I do not believe we need a proof of citizenship. This will only create an inaccurate count of I individuals.

  6. No, census will not make or break schools, that is a fear approach and statement. . Education can be given with our without top expensisve supplies. I feel the citizenship question is very important on the form. Taking a census on our legal citizenship is the accurate thing to do. An illegal immigrant should not not be taken into consideration of the census of the United States of America. If the community is not fairly represented in the schools with accurate funding because they have illegal immegrants then that community should reconsider housing the immigrants. If the community is strongly in favor of the immigrants then they should fund them the process of legalizing their citizenship.

    1. As a teacher, you might want to lead by example and learn to spell, or at least proofread your spelling before launching your attack on the official count or survey of a population. Anything beyond the official count is injecting political bias into the process.

      1. The fact of the matter is that it’s all about the $$$$, it has been proven (WA DC) that having more $$$$$ doesn’t make better students. The only reason they want more $$$$ is to have more power to control votes. Yes, the citizenship question should be on the census, that way we know how may U.S. citizens are in the country.

      2. I hesitated to comment – until I read this post. Shawn R. proves the liberal talking points – if you do not have an intelligent reply, attack the persons political views. Here’s a question for all of you to ponder: If you were visiting a foreign country – say staying in Mexico for 6 months – would you be Entitled to participate in the country’s census just because your child was enrolled in an American school or local school in Mexico for your stay? Simple answer is “NO”. The individual communities/schools that Choose to educate illegal alien children should bear that cost themselves. We are discussing the effect of Illegal aliens draining our resources – not American Citizens! Only American citizens – which includes those who immigrated Legally – should be allowed to be included in the American Census.

        1. Congratulation Susan Whipp and Teacher for sticking to the facts. If you compare the amount of money we spend on education in the USA to other industrialized nations and then analyse test results, it becomes very clear, money is not the issue.
          Now look at the amount of money the USA spends on taking care of Illegal Immigrants and the amount of money local school systems pay trying to educate the children of illegal immigrants and simple math will clearly show that a lot more money would be available to educate our American students, if we had a better immigration system. Times have changed, citizenship should be included on the census.

    2. Funding is not about having the latest and greatest school supplies. In many districts, it’s about putting highly qualified teachers in front of students. Putting them in overcrowded classrooms is not an education, it is babysitting. I had the privilege of working in a school that provided small group instruction to at risk students. It was beautiful how many things can go right when you are not forced to learn in a class size of 37. This year, the changing demographics and enrollment projections brought extreme budget cuts and my position has been eliminated. Frankly, it is not me who will suffer, I’ll be back teaching in 30+ student classrooms again. It’s the kids, especially the most vulnerable, who will suffer. I am certain that the census citizenship question will only hurt education.

      1. If a citizenship question is included, many people will be afraid to fill out the paper and won’t be counted. However, the children of those people will still be in your classroom the next fall. Since money follows population numbers, the schools will not get the money they need. We will no longer be looking at classes of 37 . Instead class size could be 40 or 45 with no increase in funding.

  7. I believe taking census is a ‘not for profit’ job. I have also tried to take part in being a census taker with those in charge busier with their cell phone rather than delegating.

    Also, the Name and email should not be required on anything replicable to census taking.

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