Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau seeks to record the population throughout the country. On March 5, NASSP invited Jocelyn Bissonette, director of the Funders Census Initiative at the Funders Committee for Civic Participation; and Trevor Greene, superintendent at Yakima Public Schools, to share insights during a virtual event about the significance of this data—and why it matters for school leaders.

The event kicked off with Bissonette providing critical background on what the census is and how it impacts the nation. Businesses can use it to decide where they may want to expand, legislators use it to drive policy, and advocates can pair it with stories about the changes they want to implement in society. Communities even use this long-term data to help them plan where to place a hospital or a new school. With more than $1 trillion per year of federal programs alone relying on these numbers, it’s easy to see why participation is paramount—especially as it relates to Title I distribution, special education funding, Head Start programs, and more. Providing these services to our children relies on an accurate count.

“My passion for getting involved in education policy and advocacy is really grounded in the idea that all young people, regardless of their zip code or their income, race, ability, or immigration status or background, really deserve an equal opportunity for a high-quality education,” said Bissonette. “At its core, participation in the census is really grounded in that same concept, just at a different scale. It’s about ensuring that communities have a voice, that are equally represented, and have an equitable share of resources in our democracy as a whole. The census is incredibly important.”

Greene quickly agreed, weighing in about how the census affects his district specifically—providing the staggering math to support it: “We’re a district of 16,000 students. High-poverty, over 80 percent poverty. We have a high percentage of students of color, obviously talking about the poverty indicators, and when you’re talking about equity, it’s important for our immigrants to be counted,” said Trevor Greene, superintendent, Yakima Public Schools. “We receive over $3 million just in special education funding through data that informs the census. …

“… In its most simplistic form, you could say that the total amount of federal funding could increase by the percentage of accuracy,” continued Greene. “So as we get an accurate count of individuals, our percentage would go up and thus we would have greater funding for our system. In [2018–19], we received $21 million. If we have a 10 percent increase in our count, that would be over $2 million more funds coming into our district and therefore affecting the lives of students and families in our community.”

How can principals play an important role in ensuring an accurate count? By using their influence. “The American public has the most confidence in K–12 principals in terms of public figures. They rated higher than police officers, military leaders, religious leaders,” explained moderator Zach Scott, NASSP’s senior manager of Federal Engagement and Outreach, referencing a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Greene wasn’t surprised by the survey results, adding that that kind of trust allows school administrators to access communities in a way that others may not be able to. He also shared how his district uses this trust to its advantage as an outlet for spreading vital information. “Easy low-hanging fruit for us in communicating about the census would be the typical district websites, school websites, blogs, Facebook, social media, staff emails,” said Green. “That’s the easy thing. The more difficult [thing is] to make sure we are taking advantage of the existing action out there in the community and partnering with other organizations, and support them as they take an interest as well in the census. For example, you have community-based organizations that value this so much that they might have a census coordinator for a period of time just to help make sure that we are counting all of the right individuals and reaching out to the community and making the community feel safe.”

Visit the archives today for a full recording of the event and for more information and resources about how you can encourage participation in the 2020 census.

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