Everyone Counts: The Cost of Missing a Child

Greg Rokisky

By Greg Rokisky, MASB Assistant Director of Marketing

DashBoard, Jan. 22, 2020

Can you imagine walking every single block in your community? If that doesn’t intimidate you (or you’ve already done it!), what about walking every single one of the 329,885 blocks in Michigan or the 11 million that there are in the country? U.S. Census Bureau employees have been getting in their steps over the past nine years in order to compile the most accurate mailing list possible for the 2020 Census. The importance of an accurate accounting of everyone living in the United States cannot be stressed enough as the results will resonant for the next 10 years, impacting everything from legislative representation to public education funding.

A (Brief) Census Overview

According to the Census website, this is our nation’s one chance each decade to count its population as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Since the first census in 1790, it has served to provide quality data about the people and economy in the U.S. The data helps inform various important decisions from the distribution of Congressional seats per state, planning decisions about community services and the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.1

Another big deal with this decade’s census is that it will, for the first time, be available online in an effort to make it more inclusive and efficient. In the questionnaire’s 230-year history, it has been conducted by snail mail and canvassers going door-to-door to collect information. The Bureau is hoping to collect the majority of responses (55%) using computers, mobile phones or other devices in 2020.2 This is, in part, an effort to control the cost of the census, which has been escalating with each decade. The 2020 Census is estimated to cost approximately $15.6 billion.3

Taking into consideration all things technology and management of user-controlled surveys, there is room for phishing threats and concerns surrounding cybersecurity that the Bureau has recognized. They have stated that the highest IT priority is cybersecurity and improving public perception and trust surrounding the online census data collection.4 As an additional measure, the Census Bureau will distribute paper forms to households with low internet usage and large older-adult populations, as well as those who don’t respond online.

The Impact on Public Education

Among the funds that the census helps decide the distribution of are those attributed to public education. The survey results impact the federal funds that communities receive for special education, classroom technology, teacher training, afterschool programs, school lunch assistance and more. This puts even more critical onus on those in the education arena to ensure accurate data is collected.

The two biggest pots of federal money for K-12 schools that would be impacted are Title I, which aims to level the playing field for students from low-income families, and special education grants to states.5 According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, estimates show that the state would lose $1,800 total per year in federal funding for each person who goes uncounted in 2020.6 An undercount means less or no federal assistance for schools and students in Michigan who need it the most.

Not only is it important that every student is counted, it’s important that every child is counted. Think about how the frequency of the census can impact a child if they are overlooked. Services could be lacking for almost the entirety of their K-12 experience with only a three-year difference between their school career and the time between censuses.

What’s the likelihood of a child being missed? Too high; the 2010 Census missed more than 10% of all children under the age of 5.7 Based on the national Count All Kids Committee, they anticipate that even more kids might be missed in 2020 due to various challenges such as timing and budgetary restraints.8

What's Being Done in Michigan and Beyond?

All that being said, what’s being done to ensure all students are accounted for here in Michigan?

In June 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an Executive Order establishing a Complete Count Committee. This group of more than 50 organizations, municipalities and government entities was charged with providing public leadership; identifying barriers that may prevent a full count; creating and implementing an action plan to overcome the recognized barriers; and identifying opportunities to coordinate with other entities working toward a complete count. Their goal is to increase the self-response rate to 82% from 78% in 2010.

“Our children depend on the federal dollars that come from Census Data and it is our job to make sure we do our best to be counted,” said Gov. Whitmer during the announcement of the committee.

Advertising and promotion for the questionnaire is scheduled to begin this month and the first census postcard can be expected in household mailboxes by mid-March. Invites to the online form will arrive around the same time followed by a reminder postcard. All households will be notified by the official Census Day on April 1, 2020 and should respond as soon as possible.

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau Statistics in Schools program has provided materials that can be used in the classroom to emphasize the importance of this once-a-decade survey. The SIS Ambassador Program goals are threefold: 1) Engage educators with SIS materials and empower them to champion the SIS message; 2) Share SIS materials with teachers, students and households with children; and 3) Spread awareness of the 2020 Census to increase self-response.9 To learn more about the Statistics in Schools program and to download resources, you can visit

What Else Can We Do?

Additional calls to action that your school district and you individually can implement are to talk about and promote the importance of the census to your community members; post census materials and reminders on your website and/or social media channels; and ensure you complete your household’s questionnaire accurately and on time.

More information and resources can be found at

This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 LeaderBoard magazine. View the full issue here.


1United States Census Bureau. What We Do. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

2Cohn, D. For 2020 Census Bureau plans to trade paper responses for digital ones. Pew Research Center, Feb. 24, 2016. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

3U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2020 Decennial Census. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

4Smith, K. Update on Cybersecurity. United States Census Bureau, April 20, 2018. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

5Ujifusa, A. Here’s How Changes to the U.S. Census Could Impact Education Funding. Education Week, March 28, 2018. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

6Michigan League for Public Policy. 2020 Census. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

7Count All Kids Census 2020. What is the Census? Retrieved from misskids, Dec. 11, 2019.

8Count All Kids Census 2020. What Will Happen in 2020? Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.

9U.S. Census Bureau. Statistics in Schools Ambassador Program. Retrieved from, Dec. 11, 2019.