Engaging K-12 Students and Teachers in the 2020 Census

By Lizette Escobedo, Deborah Stein, Eric Lotke, and Aniqa Hassan

The 2020 Census is crucial to ensuring that every community across the United States receives enough funding and resources to support each resident. This impacts the number of teachers that are hired and funding for public schools as well. Therefore, Asian Americans Advancing Justice is working to ensure a full and accurate count of our communities in the 2020 Census. As a part of our educational and census campaign efforts, we hosted a webinar with experts in the field that focuses on how K-12 students, teachers, and organizations can help ensure that young children and students are accurately counted in the 2020 Census.

The Census Bureau also has the Statistics in Schools Program with resources that are meant to be used in classrooms during the 2019 to 2020 school year. This program has Pre-K, K through 12, ELL, and Adult ESL activities and materials that can be used in the classroom. Every superintendent of the country has received the resources, so feel free to reach out to superintendents and principals in the area and ask them to use the tools provided.

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)and Hagase Contar

This is one of the most challenging censuses specifically as it relates to the Latino community. There was an undercount of young children of about one million during the 2010 Census and 40 percent of that consisted of young Latino children. In response, NALEO held a national survey in 2018 as well as focus groups. In households with children age seventeen and younger, the research showed that 53 percent of survey respondents stated that they have one or more children age seventeen and younger. Among those respondents, 11 percent said they would not count their children or do not know if they would. In households with children age four and younger, 24 percent of survey respondents stated that they have one or more children age four and younger in the household and among those 15 percent said they would not count them or do not know if they would. These focus groups were conducted in various states across the country with high Latino density and in some emerging Latino immigrant communities to ensure study diversity of U.S. born, foreign-born, Spanish speaking, and English-speaking participants.

New research shows that a two-pronged approach combining messaging that filling out the census is convenient, safe, and required alongside the community benefits is one of the most effective messaging types. Messaging which conveys that filling out the census can be an act of resistance was only effective among Latinx millennials. For the Latino community, family members were among the most trusted messengers and other research has shown that the women in the household tend to be someone who encourages the rest of the household to participate. People who speak for the children and for schools such as teachers, administrators, and caregivers, were especially trusted to ensure a full count of Latino children.

The Hagase Contar! Census 2020 Campaign is a national effort led and developed by NALEO Educational Fund. The campaign is focused on regions with significant Hard-To-Count (HTC) Latino communities and it developed visibility materials as well as training materials for the community. There has also been a lot of work with the Spanish language media alongside the national bilingual hotline.

The Hazme Contar! Campaign, a sub-campaign of Hagase Contar, grew out of the learnings from 2010 that showed the need to have an entirely separate division focused on ensuring the accurate count of Latino children aged 0–5. This campaign includes working with local and national partners, educators, school board members, childcare providers, and parent leader groups to ensure they have the tools, information, and resources needed to inform their community on the importance of counting all children in the household — including young children. One of the key products that was developed was template resolutions for school board members that have been passed by many schools and colleges to promote census in their schools. Digital videos will also be released that are focused on complex households and the sub-campaign.

Another important finding was that Latinos are avid users of smartphones; therefore, it was crucial to have the website be mobile-friendly and accessible to meet community needs. The national bilingual hotline has also been live since July 2019. The operators received eight hours of training on census operations and due to their location at headquarter offices, changes or issues can be taken to them directly. They are also working closely with organizations including Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC to make sure that there is a fully functional sense of protection operations and that any issue can be escalated as necessary.

Other creative methods also brought census into the conversation such as back to school kits which were sent to school board members for children that would hopefully initiate a conversation around the issue. Census-focused products increase visibility and awareness and serve as a way to connect the census back to trusted parties such as media partners or any other community partners who they trusted.

Partnership for America’s Children and Count All Kids

Partnership for America’s Children is a network of 52 multi-issue, independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan, state and local child advocacy organizations in 41 states. The Partnership co-leads the Count All Kids Initiative with Coalition on Human Needs, First Focus, and Zero to Three. The Count All Kids Initiative is working to count young children in the Census and is working with the Census Bureau by sharing messaging research and identifying places for improvement in their operations. They also support over 70 national organizations in all 50 states with information and strategies to bolster the count of young children.

The three most important takeaways on counting children in the census are as follows:

  1. The number of young children missed in the census is large, growing, and hurts young children
  2. Young children are missed even when adults are counted; we need different strategies to count young children.
  3. Count All Kids is providing resources that can improve the count of young children

The impact that the census has on children thriving is one of the key motivating messages that persuade parents to fill out the form and include their children. Census data informs the amount of political representation given to a community and it also impacts federal funding for key kids’ programs such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), foster care, childcare, Title 1 Schools, Special Education, and more. Therefore, counting young children increases the resources to help them thrive and it affects government planning in ways that benefit kids.

Large undercounts of a population such as young children can have harmful impacts on communities. Data from 2010 indicates how much money each state lost because of the undercount and just five programs are losing over half a billion dollars each year because of the undercount of children. Also, communities that miss large populations can also be disqualified from federal grants such as lead poisoning prevention.

In the 2010 Census, we missed one in 10 children under the age of five which accounted for two million children that went uncounted. Black and Hispanic children are missed at more than two times the rate of White children. The main reasons resulting in the miscounting of young children stem from the fact that young children are more likely to live in hard-to-count households and that many young children are left off the census form.

Strategies created by the Partnership for America’s Children aim to identify populations of hard to count children, then conduct message research, develop outreach tools to persuade families to count children, and disseminate knowledge, tools, and resources. Research from Count All Kids conducted studies with 11 focus groups and surveyed 800 parents with children under 5 nationwide who make less than $50,000 a year. This showed that 10 percent would not include their children under five and eight percent was unsure if they would. The most common reasons were confusion regarding why they need to be counted and why the government needs to know. Other reasons were part-time or temporary residence in the home. Based on the data, key messaging points were convenience and privacy as well as highlighting the link between the census and local school funding and how the census helps local governments plan for the future. Highlighting the losses of not counting children accurately was effective as well.

The list of trusted messengers was similar to NALEO’s list and it primarily consisted of people who work with families and young children. The research also found that Facebook and YouTube were the most trusted social media platforms. Other methods of receiving information consisted of PSAs by media platforms such as Univision as well as fact sheets, targeted tools for foster kids, toolkits, and flyers.

The National Education Association

The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest labor union and professional interest group in the United States and represents public school teachers and other support professionals at colleges and universities. NEA has three million members and a presence in communities all around the country including urban and rural areas. As mentioned before, educators are trusted messengers and schools may be the primary family connection to English language or government services. Educators also have lesson plans and they can tie in their subject area to the census using Common Core and standardized teaching materials.

At the NEA website, NEA members can access all census related information and they have a magazine as well that is distributed to three million people. Posters will also be available to be put in classrooms and community spaces to ensure that the information is visible to people in those spaces. Local affiliates can include census information in articles, emails, and meetings. They can coordinate with community partners as well. Schools can be used as questionnaire assistance centers. Lastly, backpack mail, sent with the child, is another method to start conversations at home. The mailings are available in several different languages.

Disseminating information about the census and educating the public on the impact of the census are both important methods of ensuring that young children are not missed in the census count. All the organizations listed above have their own strategies as well as community partners and affiliates who are involved in ensuring that hard to count groups are accurately represented. For more information, please refer to any of their websites as well as the Census Bureau’s website for key dates.

Lizette Escobedo is the Director of the National Census Program at the NALEO Educational Fund. Deborah Stein is an expert in policy analysis and advocacy on behalf of vulnerable children. Eric Lotke is part of the Strategic Research and Operations at the National Education Association. Aniqa Hassan is a former policy intern with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

View the webinar here. For AANHPI census resources, go to CountUsIn2020.org.




Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

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