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Census Undercount Could be Disastrous for NC Schools

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After-school programs, school lunch assistance, special education, and classroom technology all receive federal funding based on U.S. Census data. (Adobe Stock)
After-school programs, school lunch assistance, special education, and classroom technology all receive federal funding based on U.S. Census data. (Adobe Stock)
August 14, 2020

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Census Bureau has announced it's wrapping up field operations a month earlier than previously planned, and critics say the move could have serious long-term consequences for North Carolina public schools.

The census count determines how much federal education money the state receives, and Deborah Weinstein -- executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs -- noted that North Carolina schools need even more cash for building upgrades, additional staff and Personal Protective Equipment to help keep children and teachers safe in the pandemic.

She said for every child who isn't counted, the state loses $1,700 a year.

"The loss of revenues means that there could be 79,000 teachers and other education staff laid off by the end of 2022 if they don't get more help," said Weinstein.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has sent a letter calling for a four-month extension of the census deadline, but President Donald Trump has said he wants the data to go to Congress by December 31. The lawmakers said they want to extend that time frame to April 30 of next year.

North Carolina's current count is slightly below the national average of 62%, and more than two in five residents haven't responded yet.

Lindy Studds, a member of the 2020 Census Community Partnership and Engagement Program said responding online or by phone means the Census Bureau can tally households faster.

"The less we have to go out to those houses, the better for everyone," said Studds. "And so that's why, since that is starting the second week in August, we're encouraging everyone to respond today, all without having to need a census taker. We refer to that as 'avoiding the knock.'"

While it's easy for many households to respond online, Weinstein added that some groups are harder to reach and count. She says that's why an extension is critical.

"It takes time to reach people in rural areas," said Weinstein. "And young children, people of color, immigrants and the poor are missed most often."

An undercount means fewer federal dollars for housing, transportation, health care, education, and emergency-response services. More than $675 billion in federal funds over the next decade will be attached to state and local population counts.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC