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Schools Await Census Data To Learn of Funding Shifts

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Washington--Population figures and demographic data derived from the 1990 census will have a critical impact on how much money states, districts, and schools will receive under numerous Education Department programs.

Grants for Chapter 1 compensatory education, Chapter 2 block grants, drug-free schools and communities, vocational education, education of the handicapped, and math and science teaching, among a host of other programs, all rely on funding formulas that use census data.

In fact, a recent General Accounting Office report concluded, of the $27.5 billion in federal funds appropriated in fiscal year 1989 and determined in part by decennial census figures, $7.4 billion--the largest of any government department or agency--came from the Education Department.

And in the current fiscal year, according to department figures, more than $9.8 billion of the Education Department's $27.4-billion budget was determined in part by formulas that require Census Bureau data.

The 1990 census will likely have an important effect on federal education policy, observers note, as reapportionment and redistricting shift the balance of power within the U.S. House of Representatives and as state legislatures are reshaped to reflect a decade of demographic shifts.

But the most tangible impact of the nationwide population count to school officials and educators may be its role in driving formula-driven funding for federal programs.

Some federal education programs, such as Paul Douglas Teacher Scholarships and library assistance, rely solely on population statistics--numbers that are revised annually.

Other programs, however, use detailed age, income, and educational-status information that is only available once every 10 years. Those programs include Chapter 1, the most heavily funded education program tied to the census; state-administered adult-education grants; grants for the education of homeless children; and state-administered English-literacy grants.

The number of poor children between the ages of 5 and 17 drives the Chapter 1 formula, for example, and the number of state residents with limited English proficiency helps determine the funding level for literacy grants.

In the case of the 1990 census, the new demographic information will not be released until the spring of 1992.

Because of the time needed to incorporate the data into the funding formulas, that means the statistics being compiled now will not affect the funding of some programs until the 1993-94 academic year.

And, because the demographic statistics gleaned from the 1990 census will be in use for 10 years, the statistics will drive funding formulas until the 2003-04 school year.

Current funding levels for such programs, then, have been using, and will continue to use through fiscal year 1992, formulas that use age, poverty, and literacy data from the 1980 census.

"People realize that that's the way it is, and we deal with it," said Diana Whitelaw, president of the National Association of State Coordinators of Compensatory Education. "But that doesn't mean we like it."

While Ms. Whitelaw and her colleagues, directors of Chapter 1 programs at the school-district level, and state and local officials who manage the procurement and distriel10lbution of federal funds are closely monitoring the developments with the 1990 census, they say planning for potential changes in federal funding would be premature.

That a city or state might lose or gain in population, they say, does not mean, necessarily, that there would be a corresponding decrease or increase in the student, income, and age counts used in funding formulas.

"Until we get a figure, just knowing we've got a loss doesn't help us much," said Dallas Picou, associate director of Chapter 1 programs for the New Orleans schools. According to preliminary estimates, New Orleans's population decreased from 557,927 in 1980 to 487,953 in 1990.

Like New Orleans, a number of the nation's largest urban areas have lost population during the past 10 years, according to preliminary estimates of the 1990 census results.

Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, Atlanta, Cleveland, and St. Louis lost between 8.6 percent and 19.6 percent of their 1980 populations, according to the estimates. New York's population decreased by 0.5 percent.

Dozens of cities have challenged the Census Bureau's counts and have documented tens of thousands of residents, many of them from minority groups and many living in low-income families, thought to be bypassed.

The Census Bureau is reviewing that information and will send final population numbers to President Bush by the end of the year; data must be sent to the governors by April 1, 1991, so that Congressional and legislative redistricting can begin.

In addition, in response to a lawsuit by some of the largest cities calling for a statistical adjustment in the census count, Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher has agreed to announce by July 15, 1991, the Administration's decision on any adjustment.

The census figures, said Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, "are like a gun in the closet."

"You know it's there," he added, "it's just a matter of time before it goes off."

In the current fiscal year, funding levels for 18 Education Department programs were determined in part by formulas that require Census Bu4reau data. The Chapter 1 program, at $5.6 billion in fiscal year 1991, is the largest.

Other programs that use census-based formulas include vocational education ($910 million in the current fiscal year), teacher education in math and science ($214 million), drug-free schools and communities ($498 million), Chapter 2 block grants ($449 million), and education of the handicapped grants for infants and families ($117 million).

Many of them use the key Chapter 1 statistic--the number of 5- to 17-year-olds living in a family under the federally designated poverty line.

Officials note that population figures alone are not enough to extrapolate the effect of the new census data on federal funding.

Cities that lost population, for example, could also have experienced a decrease in the number of children, including poor students, in the city's schools, leading to a decade-long reduction in a district's percentage of Chapter 1 funding and a yearly reduction in funding for other key programs, provided the student counts were not revised upward as a result of the annual Current Population Survey.

On the other hand, the population loss could signal the flight of affluent citizens out of the cities and into the suburbs, leaving education-program funding on the same course it has been for the previous 10 years.

Conversely, a city that gained population would be likely to have more students, including an increase in low-income youngsters, in its schools and, therefore, need more federal dollars. If those cities continued gaining residents, funding for most education programs would be revised upward according to the yearly survey, but funding for Chapter 1 would be based on the 1990 level.

That is what happened to Austin, Tex., where the population shot up from 345,890 residents in 1980 to 461,046 residents in 1990, a 33 percent increase, according to a preliminary estimate.

Ambrosio Melendrez, the administrator of Chapter 1 programs for the Austin school district, said the 1980 census identified 9,700 children living under the poverty level. But by May 1990, he noted, about 26,000 students were receiving free or reduced-price lunches in the district.

"The students are already here," Mr. Melendrez said. "I've argued the point that 10 years is too long, especially for growing districts like ours."

While the poverty level and free-lunch indicators are not identical, school districts use the free-lunch figure and the number of children that receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments and, therefore, live below the poverty level to appeal to states to amend their Chapter 1 allocation.

States receive Chapter 1 payments from the federal government in a lump sum based on the state's number of low-income students, a statistic derived once every 10 years, and a state's per-pupil expenditure. School districts then apply for funding to their states, based on the number of poor students enrolled in district schools.

Mr. Melendrez and other state and local budget and Chapter 1 officials heralded the Congress's efforts in recent years to boost Chapter 1 funding and said they hoped the trend would continue. They said further increases would soften the blow to districts that expect to lose funding during the 1990's.

Nevertheless, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized in 1993, advocates and Congressional aides expect a struggle over the Education Department's funding formulas, particularly the one for Chapter 1.

According to one aide, lawmakers from economically depressed states, states that are expected to lose population, and small states will lead the formula fight.

Moreover, the use of Chapter 1 formulas for other education programs and several programs contained in House and Senate omnibus education bills, which were scrapped this session but which will likely be reintroduced during the next Congress, will "raise the stakes," the aide said.

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