Here's a challenge: Visit a Fort Wayne Community Schools building and leave without hearing or seeing a promotion for the 2020 census.
Reminders of the upcoming nationwide decennial population count should be inescapable. FWCS is hanging census banners and posters in schools along with including the census logo on printed materials for mass distribution, such as newsletters, and census announcements during sporting events and the school day.
“We just want to saturate our population,” said D. Faye Williams-Robbins, chief of student, family and community engagement at FWCS.
School districts are investing time and resources to ensure all residents are counted as required by the U.S. Constitution, which helps determine congressional representation.
But there's more at stake: The federal government also uses census data to distribute federal funding for more than 100 programs, including school lunches, special education, career and technical education and Title I at schools with high percentages of students from low-income families. FWCS has 23 Title I schools.
“So many layers of education can be affected by federal funding,” said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.
Materials from the Every Hoosier Child Counts! Complete Count Committee – a statewide group promoting participation in the census – indicate results determine the allocation of $883 billion in federal funds annually, with $18 billion going to Indiana. About $1 billion supports K-12 programs in the state.
Getting a complete picture of the state's demographics will help ensure those funds are distributed where needed, Baker said. With many schools receiving some sort of federal funding, he added, census participation “is important to the community whether you can see the direct benefit or not.”
Federal funding supports about 11% of FWCS' expenses, according to spokeswoman Krista Stockman. She noted this includes all federal dollars, even those unrelated to census data. The district's 2020 budget is $305 million.
Every person uncounted will add up.
The Education Department cited estimates showing Indiana will lose about $10,000 in federal funding over the next decade for every person missed.
“We can't afford to lose it,” FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson said when the school board approved a resolution last month formalizing the district's commitment to promoting census participation.
The East Allen County Schools and MSD Bluffton-Harrison boards have passed similar resolutions.
The Whitley County Consolidated Schools board last week discussed the importance of local participation in the census, and the superintendent shared what each school is doing to raise awareness with families.
Northwest Allen County Schools also is stressing the importance of full participation so it gets federal support for students and staff.
“We urge everyone within our district to make time and be counted so we can continue to nurture the creativity of each learner,” according to a statement from NACS.
The Education Department isn't tracking which schools are promoting the census, Baker said, but educators statewide are embracing their role in helping get the word out.
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has been encouraging schools to step up.
“As a leader in your school and community, you are a trusted source of information to the caretakers of students and the larger school community,” McCormick said in a January memo to school superintendents and leaders. “Your voice is needed now to help promote awareness of the 2020 census to ensure a complete and accurate count of children in your community.”
FWCS doesn't discount the trusted role their employees play. Some people are nervous about revealing personal information to the government, including students in the district's adult English language learner program, Stockman said. The teacher is sharing resources about the census to alleviate concerns, she added.
“That relationship piece is huge,” said Williams-Robbins, an FWCS administrator.
The U.S. Census Bureau cannot release identifiable information about those completing the survey, and the answers cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.
Other census efforts at FWCS include teaching students about the census in early March and establishing places where people can complete the census online.
Households will begin receiving invitations to complete the census in mid-March.
“Raise your hand. Be counted,” Baker said. “It's as simple as that.”