March 10, 2010 | Neon Tommy: The voice of annenberg digital news | Original Article

Making Children Count in 2010 Census

The second grade class at the Carmen Lomas Garza Primary Center took a census of its surrounding community of Boyle Heights.

Each student brought home a form that asked their parents to answer basic questions regarding the number of household members, their ages and their genders.

After diligently making graphs and lists from the data, the class showed off the fruits of their labor at a news conference held at the school on Monday.

Sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), in coalition with the U.S. Census Bureau, the event emphasized the importance of counting Latino children in the 2010 Census.

Second grader Sebastian Rodriguez stepped up to the podium to share why it is important to him.

"The census will provide me Legos, more books to read, and a place to play. If we all get counted, we get more resources and have a healthy community," Rodriguez said.

Robert Groves, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said that an estimated 1.4 percent of the national population was not counted during the 2000 Census. Latinos, African Americans and young people were disproportionately included in that percentage.

"The issue for us is to make sure that number is small differentially over groups," said Groves.  "We'd like to have a fair census where everyone is counted at the same rate."

Arturo Vargas, the executive director of NALEO, said it is imperative that that percentage is decreased in the 2010 Census. If every Latino is counted, the 2010 Census will be the first one in which Latinos are the second largest ethnic group.

The majority of Latinos who go uncounted, however, are children.

Latino children make up 20 percent of school-age children, according to the data provided by NALEO. Yet during the 2000 Census, 3.3 million of those children went uncounted.

"One misconception about the census is that it's all about adults. So even though the questions really probe for kids to be listed on the form, people don't think of it that way," said Groves.

But the campaign "Ya Es Hora¡ Hagese Contar!" seeks to reverse that trend. Meaning "Now Is The Time. Be Counted," it highlights the many educational resources that are impacted by census numbers.

Patricia Romero, the principal of the Garza Primary Center, said that the federal and state governments allocate resources to school districts based on the number of students reflected in the census.

During the 2000 Census, the percentage of children who went uncounted cost $4.1 billion in educational funding in 31 states, according to data from NALEO.
"If we are counted, we'll get our fair share. Every public school will receive the funds that its community generates," Romero said.

L.A. Unified School Board Vice President Yolie Flores said the census funds are used for instructional materials, teachers' salaries, meal plans, libraries and after school funds.

Flores noted that the count is also key to securing funds for special education.

"For special education, we get $700 million when we need $1.4 billion. Because we only get half, the only way to serve [special education students] is to tap into the general fund, which is reserved for other children," Flores said.

Second graders from Garza Primary Center presented on Monday data they
gathered in their own version of the census.(Catherine Cloutier)

Preschool and Headstart funding are also based on census data. There are currently 100,000 students who qualify for Headstart in L.A. Unified, but the district's limited resources cannot support all of them, Flores said.

In order to receive the necessary resources, NALEO is working to encourage the Latino community to actively participate in the census ahead of the delivery of U.S. Census forms. The forms will start arriving in mailboxes in mid-March.

By law, a person must identify himself or herself to the federal government.
Romero said that many members of the Latino community fear that the information submitted to the Census Bureau will be leaked to other agencies, incriminating them.

But census information cannot be legally disseminated for 72 years. Tampering with the information is penalized with fines and incarceration.

The U.S. Census Bureau used leaders in the community, many of whom spoke Spanish during the conference, to convey this message.

"A guy from Washington could say this is an important thing and this is safe to do without much meaning for those groups," Groves said. "But when a local neighborhood leader says those same things, it works."

The U.S. Census Bureau partners with 200,000 local organizations around the country, including L.A. Unified, to speak to the importance of the census and canvas for its forms.

Rene Gonzalez, the district's assistant superintendent for Student Health and Human Services, said L.A. Unified will feature a public service announcement on its television station, post announcements on its website and communicate through its automated telephone system to emphasize the district's dependence on accurate census counts of its students.

Flores said that the need for accurate numbers, however, extends beyond the district.

"[Many Latino] communities are high-need communities with high populations of poverty.  If we don't bring resources to these communities they won't get out of poverty.  Especially around education, kids who don't get quality education will not be able to compete in workforce," Flores said.

In light of this, Romero hopes the conference and the second graders' census will help ease their parents' concern about the process and inspire them participate--and to count all the members of their households.

"They are people who are hard-working and give to this community, pay their taxes, do everything they are supposed to," Romero said. "They should be counted."