June 2019 - Betsy Vaughn

June 2019 - Betsy Vaughn
Posted on 06/10/2019
June 2019 - Betsy Vaughn

On April 1, 2020, the United States Census Bureau will conduct the nation’s 24th decennial census with the goal of counting every person living in the U.S. and collecting their demographic data. Local and state “Complete Count Committees” are already hard at work to ensure everyone understands that complete and accurate data guide a wide variety of critical determinations including the reapportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the realignment of congressional districts.

Another key application of census data is that head count numbers are used as a factor in the formulas that annually distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds. Public schools count on accurate census data to receive needed funding to serve every child who walks through their doors. Undercounts mean that states may not be able to cover the needs that exist in their communities and the schools that their children attend will be underfunded. The resulting lack of resources can negatively affect all children in the schools. Public schools’ allocation of federal dollars includes grants from Title I to serve students from low-income families, the national School Lunch Program, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Head Start preschool program. In addition, programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) keep millions of families out of poverty and have lasting benefits for children’s health and academic success.

The Census has traditionally struggled to obtain a complete count from low-income communities, particularly those with a high population of people of color. Undercounting communities of color will mean that school districts like The School District of Lee County will not receive adequate resources. Also, research shows that young children are already at high risk of not being counted. The Annie E. Casey Foundation notes that the 2010 Census “had the worst undercount since 1950, with nearly 5% of children under age 5 – about one million kids [nationwide] – not counted.” Unfortunately, the problem of small numbers of completed census counts among low-income communities, particularly those with high populations of people of color, may be compounded in 2020 by a citizenship question that discourages participation. According to a recent Census Bureau study, about 25% of those surveyed were concerned about confidentiality and/or feared that their answers to the 2020 Census would be used against them.

The Constitutionality of the citizenship question has been challenged by several states. The Department of Commerce v. State of New York was fast-tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court is expected to make its determination before the end of this month so that census forms can be prepared. If the citizenship question does appear on the 2020 Census, the Complete Count Committees’ role of education and awareness will expand to a focus on convincing many members of the community that census data are confidential and protected by Federal law. Title 13 guarantees census answers cannot be used by any government agency or court against a respondent.

According to Census Bureau data, Lee County had a 72% 2010 Census participation rate, which was slightly below the state average of 74%. With only 74% counted in 2010, Florida lost out on over $1000 for every Floridian that was not counted and left $177,848,466 federal dollars on the table. We have just one shot every ten years. Let’s ensure that Lee County and Florida do not shortchange themselves!

Sincerely,
Betsy Vaughn, District 6
Betsy Vaughn School Board Member, District 6

District 6 School Board member Betsy Vaughn is the Lee County School District liaison to the Lee County Complete Count Committee.