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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 22

    Document Title
    Alternatives to the Triennial Census of School-Age Population

    Department of Education

    Enabling Authority
    HJR 611 (Regular Session, 1993)

    Executive Summary
    This study of the feasibility and appropriateness of the Virginia Department of Education assuming responsibility for conducting the triennial census of school-age population was conducted in response to House Joint Resolution Number 611, sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall during the 1993 Session of the General Assembly.

    The triennial school census of school-age population is required by statute. Sections 22.1-281 through 22.1-286 of the Code of Virginia require each school division to take a census every three years of all residents ages 5 through 19. The most recent triennial census was conducted in 1992; the next census is scheduled for 1995.

    Data obtained from the triennial census are used in the following three ways:

    1. by the Commonwealth to distribute revenue from a statewide one percent sales and use tax -- approximately $500 million in 1993-94 -- among the 95 counties and 41 cities;

    2. by 74 counties to distribute revenue from a local-option one percent sales tax among 190 incorporated towns; and

    3. by approximately 117 school divisions to project student enrollments and for general planning purposes.

    There are a number of problems with the triennial census, both in the processes employed by school divisions and in the quality of resulting data. Specifically:

    1. the process of counting children is cumbersome and problematic for localities;

    2. the census is a financial burden on school divisions -- the 1992 census cost divisions $4.1 million to conduct, and by 1995 this cost may exceed $5 million; and

    3. inaccuracies may exist in the census data reported by some divisions.

    Therefore, identifying and adopting an acceptable alternative to the school census has the potential to remove a burdensome state mandate, refocus significant financial resources toward direct educational services, and ensure that sales tax revenue for education is distributed on a consistent and accurate basis.

    Although a number of possible alternatives to the current triennial census do exist, most of these alternatives have significant disadvantages associated with them. For example:

    • a state-conducted census would closely resemble the current census process without improving accuracy or providing savings;

    • existing local population projections do not accurately represent the school-age population in some localities and are updated only every ten years; and

    • actual counts of students in public schools would constitute a change in current state policy for funding public education.

    As part of the search for a viable alternative to the triennial census, the University of Virginia Center for Public Service (CPS) was contacted to determine if CPS could provide accurate estimates of school-age population for each of the Commonwealth's 138 school divisions. CPS staff are confident such estimates can be provided; however, because a statistical model will first have to be developed and tested, these estimates will be available in seven to nine months at the earliest.

    This alternative has been advantages and disadvantages. Among its advantages, this alternative would:

    • eliminate the cumbersome, time-consuming census;

    • ensure a consistent and statistically-sound methodology for estimating the school-age population statewide;

    • provide estimates that could be updated annually; and

    • save Virginia's school divisions approximately $5 million beginning in 1995.

    The following are among this alternative's disadvantages:

    • the accuracy of CPS's population estimates cannot be determined at this time;

    • it could potentially change the distribution of sales tax revenue to school divisions; and

    • these estimates would cost the Commonwealth $60,000 to develop in the first year and approximately $40,000 to produce in each year thereafter.

    Because the advantages of pursuing this alternative clearly outweigh the disadvantages, the team recommends that the Governor and the 1994 General Assembly:

    1. Provide $60,000 to the University of Virginia Center for Public Service in 1994 and direct the Center to develop the most accurate estimates possible of local school-age population for the purpose of distributing revenue from the one-percent sales tax for education. The Center should provide these estimates for consideration by the 1995 General Assembly.

    2. Postpone until 1996 the triennial census scheduled for 1995, pending review of the Center for Public Service's population estimates by the 1995 General Assembly. During the interim, 1992 school-age population figures should be further adjusted by the Department of Education pursuant to 58.1-638.D of the Code of Virginia.

    3. Request the appropriate body or agency to examine and develop alternative methods for distributing local-option sales tax revenues pursuant to 58.1-605 of the Code of Virginia, in the event that the triennial census is abolished in 1995. These alternatives should be provided for consideration by the 1995 General Assembly.

    These three actions will provide the Governor and the 1995 General Assembly with the information necessary to determine whether to adopt CPS population estimates, some other method for distributing sales tax revenues, or to continue the triennial school census.