Education News

Will the 2020 census ask about citizenship? The answer matters for public schools.

By Amanda Litvinov

Photo: Young protesters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court issued a decision Thursday that puts on hold the Trump administration’s attempt to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

For now, it is uncertain whether the question will ultimately appear on the census form.

The outcome is important for public schools, because census data is the basis for allocating billions of dollars in federal education funding. When children and their families go uncounted, it is unlikely that their schools and communities will receive the resources needed to help support their success and well-being.

The citizenship question is known to diminish the accuracy of the census count. Some immigrants, regardless of their legal status, are afraid to answer the question and may avoid being counted or answer inaccurately.

Given the President’s long history of stoking fear in immigrant communities, it is a reasonable concern that many U.S. residents will not be represented in the 2020 census if a citizenship question appears.

State and local spending, too, relies on census data.

An accurate census is also critical to our democracy, because the data collected determines how many congressional representatives each state gets.

The Supreme Court rejected Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ claim that it added the citizenship question to help enforce voting rights, stating that the administration’s actions did not match its story. The decision leaves a window of opportunity for the Trump administration to provide a reasoned justification for including the question.

Education advocates should keep fighting for an accurate census that will help, not hurt, our public school system.  You can get involved at

Keep reading for more detailed information on what’s at stake in the census count for public schools, and ways you can help defend an accurate count in 2020.

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.

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.

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

One response to “Will the 2020 census ask about citizenship? The answer matters for public schools.

  1. Needs to be a question, individuals need to be accountable for receiving benefits belonging to citizens.

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