By Connie Llanos Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group [Daily News, Daily Breeze, etc.]
11/13/09 -- For years, advertisers have used charming kids to get parents to buy their own children everything from junk food to designer clothes. Now U.S. Census Bureau officials plan to recruit those same skills from the ranks of public school students.
As part of a nationwide effort, Los Angeles Unified officials Thursday joined with state educators in launching a campaign to encourage students to get parents to participate in the March 2010 census count.
Building on a program designed in 2000 - and facing worries about the reported reluctance of some immigrant families to participate in the 2010 census - officials hope that enlisting help from schoolchildren will encourage more parents to participate.
For LAUSD, getting every student counted is especially important as the cash-strapped district continues to lose state funding and is forced to rely more heavily on federal dollars that are usually granted based on census data.
"In this district our goal is 100 percent graduation," said LAUSD board president Monica Garcia.
"Well, now we need 100 percent participation in the census. The financial impact for the district is huge and in our current situation we have to do everything possible to bring every dollar available to LAUSD."
Jamie Christie, Los Angeles regional director for the Census Bureau, said this year's school outreach program will be broader and more integrated than the effort launched a decade ago that reached out to more than 100,000 schools nationwide.
This year all grades - from kindergarten to high school - will be included in the effort, while an adult education component has also been added.
Census officials have partnered with textbook giant Scholastic to produce lesson plan materials, maps and handouts that can be sent home to parents at no cost to schools.
"The idea is to use the census as a theme to incorporate on things students are already doing in math, geography and social studies," Christie said.
"Kids get excited about the census and then they tell mom and dad to make sure and fill out the forms in March," he said.
Christie also said that making young people excited and aware of the importance of the census also helps make them life-long participants of the federal count.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell also stressed the importance of getting an accurate count as schools statewide continue to brace for more financial pain.
For example, Title I - a federal program designed to bring extra funding to low-income schools - is based completely on population counts and eligibility determined by the census.
At LAUSD, Title I dollars represent 6 percent of the district's total annual budget.
"That is very important education funding and all residents need to be counted," O'Connell said. She also said the census gives students a real-life lesson in civic engagement.
"Students can go home and be interpreters and, when information is mailed home, they are positioned to help fill out forms and answer questions."
Some Latino leaders, though, condemn the use of children in the census, claiming that it could put students at odds with parents who may be boycotting the count for political reasons or for fear of repercussion.
The Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, said his organization - representing 20,000 churches in 34 states - is one of several groups nationwide pushing a boycott of the 2010 census until a comprehensive immigration reform package is approved.
Rivera called the student outreach program "immoral."
"To all of a sudden have children come back home with questionnaires, forcing their parents to sign forms this is an assault to the solemn dignity of the privacy of a home," Rivera said.
"These students are not taught that data from the 2000 census was used by opportunistic elected officials who then came back with anti-immigrant ordinances, raids and deportations."