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A few months ago, my team met a 17-year-old at Hope High School with no place to call home. She worked hard in her classes and studied diligently at a local homeless shelter, all while struggling to feed and clothe herself.

Fortunately, we were able to step in and help.

With federal funding from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act, we provided the individual support she needed to learn and thrive. We gave her a wardrobe and connected her to organizations that could offer warm, nutritious meals. A brilliant, committed student, we enrolled her in classes at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana and secured a laptop and mobile Wi-Fi connection device so she could complete her coursework. She went on to graduate among the top five students in her class, earn an associate's degree, and enroll in a four-year program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

None of this would have been possible without the resources we received based on data from the U.S. Census.

If completed accurately, the 2020 U.S. Census will make more stories like this possible. Information gathered in next year's survey will determine the funding our state receives over the next decade for education, health care and infrastructure.

For every 1 percent undercount, we stand to lose approximately $1 billion. That is why we must take action now to ensure every Arkansan is counted.

As superintendent of the Hope School District, I have seen firsthand how the census affects federal funding for school districts across Arkansas, especially in rural communities like mine.

In Hope, 85 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. A few years ago, we signed up for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Program to provide all students, regardless of their families' income levels, free breakfast and lunch. Armed with census data, we were able to receive $1.2 million last year alone.

Census data also determines the quality of education we provide to our kids. Take Hope as an example. In 2018, our school district received $1.3 million in federal Title I funding to hire supporting educators in our kindergarten classes, pay education specialists to help young students struggling in math and reading, and purchase new technology for classrooms. My district also received a small portion of the nationally allocated $11.4 billion to provide individualized instruction to students with disabilities, as well as funding for high-quality early education experiences like Head Start and Arkansas Better Chance.

It's important to recognize that census data will have a long-term impact on students' education and their families' overall quality of life. Data will determine where roads and medical facilities are built and where future employers set up shop and create jobs.

Eight years ago, Hope nearly lost its hospital, but residents were able to come together and, with census data, successfully advocate for continued access to quality health care.

Whether for education, business or health care, we cannot afford to be undercounted. As we look ahead to next year's census, we hope all residents will visit arkansasimpact.org/arkansas-counts and follow @ARcensus2020 on Facebook and @ar_census on Twitter to find out how they can do their parts to get out the count.

Together, we can ensure Arkansas continues to receive the resources it needs to help students and our state thrive.

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Dr. Bobby Hart is the superintendent of the Hope School District, which is focused on providing all students a quality education by fostering collaboration among its schools, families and community stakeholders, with the goal of creating productive citizens. For more information, visit hpsdistrict.org.

Editorial on 09/09/2019

Print Headline: BOBBY HART: Get counted

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