Millions of dollars at stake for Virginia school systems with the Census

Radford is looking for $300,000 or more in lost funding when people are counted this year

RADFORD, Va. – If you haven’t filled out your census form, you have a little more time before someone comes to knock on your door. Next month, Census takers will interview homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.

The data is important for schools and how much money they get to help your children.

“Radford has been in the top five poorest cities in Virginia,” said Rob Graham, Radford City Schools superintendent. Graham says at McHarg Elementary, close to 65% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“When I was principal here in 2006 it was around 26% so we’ve increased significantly in a very short period of time,” said Graham.

“The census is important to us because that’s how we get our federal funding,” said Jenny Zienius, a Belle Heath 5th grade teacher who also serves as the Radford Education Association vice president. “It can go a long way. We do a lot with what we are given.”

Federal funding is how schools can pay for things like lunch, special education, headstart pre-school and much more for students and teachers like Zienius.

The census is going on right now but there’s only a 48.% return rate in Radford as of last week. More people counted could mean more money for schools and Graham says they need every dollar.

$300,000 or more is at stake. Graham wants to get back up to 2010 funding when they got $1.8 million. In 2019, he says that dropped to $1.5 million based on enrollment numbers.

The superintendent says there’s a lot more he could do if he had more money to work with in the budget.

“There’s a number of things we could do. I think first of all it would be important to collaborate with our staff to see what the needs are for our students and for them too. I would love to see a lot of engaging and innovative opportunities for our community,” said Graham.

“A few extra dollars can mean a whole different activity, resource for our kids to make their learning even more special every day,” said Zienius.

Before the coronavirus started Janiele Hamden who works as a US Census Bureau Partnership Specialist talked to high school seniors about working for the census.

“We really wanted to use it as an opportunity to help educate our seniors as they’re entering the real world about why this data is important and how they can be part of it and helped spread that message to their peers,” said Hamden.

Now, Hamden says they are brainstorming other ways to get the word out like using the school feeding system.

Henry County schools get about $11 million dollars a year in federal money.

“We are still encouraging families to complete the census,” said Monica Hatchett, with Henry County Public Schools. “It is critical that all of our students and their families are counted in the census so that local, state, and federal authorities have the information they need to support families in the best way possible. Financial support is a part of this, but it also helps us to forecast teacher student ratios for optimal class sizes to facilitate high quality instruction and to plan for student programming/curriculum needs.”

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