How does the 2020 census affect Michigan schools?

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Capital News Service

LANSING — The Census has ramped up its push to get Americans, including Michigan residents, to fill out the form.

With promises of helping education and the economy, the Census Bureau website says that “the 2020 census count impacts the federal funds that communities receive each year for programs and services that are critical for schools, students and younger children.”

“If Michigan’s residents are not fully counted, the state would not receive its full share of the federal funds for these important programs,” said Alisande Shrewsbury, the special assistant to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction in the Education Department.

But how will the results of the 2020 census affect Michigan? And in particular, how will it affect education, whether that be private or public schools?

“Federal education dollars have become more and more important because our schools are woefully underfunded,” said David Crim, a Michigan Education Association communications consultant. The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school staff.

Shrewsbury said it’s important to fill out the census because Michigan will otherwise not get the tax dollars it needs for programs and services to support students.

Census data is used to help the federal government allocate funds for public and private school education, not just in Michigan but throughout the country. 

Michigan ranks third in response rates for the 2020 census, statewide census director Kerry Ebersole Singh said.

Even with that number, Ebersole Singh said, “Michigan needs to increase participation.”

Shrewsberry said that response rate bodes well for Michigan when the data is used to help distribute federal aid. 

“Funds for many federal education-related programs are allocated to each state and further to each school district within the state, based on the census count,” Shrewsbury said. 

Among those programs are grants to local schools, school breakfasts and lunches, special education, Head Start and career and technical education, Shrewsbury said. 

The federal aid benefits public and private schools, she said.

The Census Bureau says the census is responsible for distribution of more than $800 billion for programs that assist students with special needs and who come from low-income families.

That includes all of Michigan’s districts, and is especially important in the Upper Peninsula, which, Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, said, can be “forgotten,” a big reason why state legislators urged U.P. residents to “be counted” in this year’s census. 

Ebersole Singh said that if residents don’t keep up with the census,”our dollars will be sent someplace else. That’s the last thing we can do is be a donor state at this point in time.” 

Many schools are struggling with unpaid student lunch accounts.

49.4% of students in the state, according to the Food and Research Action Center, qualify for the National School Lunch Program – a program whose funding is decided partly by census data.

All Michigan’s K-12 schools are required to participate in the program. 

Crim said the importance of food service, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said districts still have bus drivers and food service workers going into school buildings so they can provide meals for students in need. 

Funding for those meals, Crim said, wouldn’t be possible without the census data.

But that isn’t where it ends.

“Beyond education, the state depends on federal funding for a lot of things,” Crim said. “Those are our tax dollars that the federal government is redistributing.”

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