How does the Census affect children’s education?

How does the Census affect children’s education?

By Cynthia Macleay Campbell, Ed.D.
Gold Apple Services

Why should over 1.5 million adult learners care about the census? Because their children’s education depends on it!

Teachers of adult English language learners in local programs often ask new students why they want to take English classes. Most people give one of two answers: to advance in their jobs or to help their children with their education. As they work hard to attain more education for themselves, adult learners want to see their children get the best education possible in their local schools.

Adult learners probably know that along with regular classes, schools provide

  • Special education
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction
  • After school programs
  • School breakfasts and school lunches

However, adult learners may not truly understand that along with local funding from property taxes, local schools receive money from the federal government, including

  • Support for education in rural communities.
  • Funding for schools in high poverty areas: this is key, as according to the Census Bureau 29 percent of adult learners live below the poverty line, which means their children do as well.
  • Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers: schools that serve certain struggling rural and urban areas. Along with daily classes, these schools also provide extra academic support and enrichment activities for students and educational programs for parents.
  • Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) who often provide tutoring in reading and other support to school children.

What do all these federal funding streams have in common? The amount that each school receives is determined by the Census count in the community. Yet adults with low educational attainment, minorities, and non-native speakers of English are often undercounted in the Census, as are children under five. And this is a problem!

Imagine adult learners and their children’s experience with their local schools if the Census has an undercount of their community’s children. Some potential scenarios:

  • Not enough teachers. Adult learners’ children could face more crowded classrooms and receive less attention and help from their teachers. ESOL students may not have enough ESOL teachers. Students with learning differences will have fewer special education teachers. Without enough teachers, children of adult learners likely will fall behind and stay behind.
  • Fewer Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers that provide the “wrap around” services that help both children and parents advance in their education and economic opportunities.
  • Not enough funding for school lunches and breakfasts, so that schools would have to offer either less food or lower quality food.

However, adult learners are not just concerned about school-age children. They also need support for preschool children, such as childcare, preschool, and Head Start, especially as many are single parents. Again, the federal funding for these programs is determined by the Census count in their communities. A Census undercount will mean fewer choices for affordable or free care or education for very young children.

Adult learners come to adult literacy and English language programs to build better lives for themselves and their families. As the Census is conducted only once every 10 years, all children, including young children and infants, need to be counted now. This way, when a newborn is ready to enter Head Start in three years or elementary school in five years, the local schools can be better prepared to meet the child’s need. In short, adult learners participating in the Census will help their children’s schools be as well-equipped as possible to educate their children.  

So, one reason why adult learners should complete the Census is that their children are counting on an accurate count for their education!

For further reading:

Poverty rates by education level:

Overview of why an accurate Census count matters for schools:

Share with adult learners:        

Flyers for parents of school-aged children in multiple languages:

Fact sheets, in English and Spanish, about counting young children:

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