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Hillsborough schools will encourage Census participation

Citizenship controversy could be a psychological barrier.
Census forms have to be printed soon. [AP photo by Michelle R. Smith]
Published Oct. 15

TAMPA — School officials in Hillsborough County are gearing up for the 2020 U.S. Census, and hoping to get as many students counted as possible.

Under-counting is a concern because funding for a multitude of educational and social services is based on population and income.

Florida now receives an estimated $44 billion per year based on Census allocation. That breaks down to $946 per person that is lost for everyone who is not counted.

Much of this money flows through the public schools. For Hillsborough, it includes $60 million in anti-poverty funding known as Title I.

Combined with Head Start for preschoolers, Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act and other programs, federal funding accounts for about 11 percent of school revenue.

On Tuesday, the School Board discussed ways to encourage more families to complete the Census in the spring, along with possible barriers for participation.

“Schools are those trusted voices in our community that will be able to engage people who may be reluctant to take the census,” Norin Dollard, the director of Florida Kids Count told the board.

Among the barriers: Immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant sentiment have made parents so fearful of government that some move frequently to stay under the radar.

The Supreme Court in June blocked President Trump from including questions about citizenship on the Census.

But more recently, the Trump administration directed the Census bureau to gather information from states - typically, about driving records and government assistance - that will generate data on citizenship.

Although this information is statistical and anonymous, and is already being gathered, civil rights leaders fear the announcement will have a chilling affect on immigrant participation.

Language barriers and low literacy levels also get in the way of participation.

The Census bureau identified 57 Hillsborough census tracks that were under-reported for these and other reasons in 2010.

A network of committees is now working to try and improve participation in 2020.

The school board members offered their own ideas, including census assistance days at the district’s five community schools, where family assistance is offered alongside education.

The counting begins in March, Dollard said. Families will receive postcards alerting them to the Census bureau website, along with instructions telling them how they can respond by mail, telephone or online.

The bureau will then follow up with residents who do not respond, including home visits.

Part of the process is a public awareness campaign, so people will understand the importance of being counted. Among its many uses, Census data determines representation in Congress and on local government boards.

“If we don’t get this right, we live with our mistakes for the next 10 years,” Dollard said. "There’s no do-over. If you drive a car on the roads, the Census matters. If you live in a place where there’s a hurricane, the Census matters.”

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