It’s frustrating for Lawrence officials to have to spend so much time, energy and money to counteract a state census process that makes no sense.
Instead of accepting the federal census that counts college students and military personnel in the college and military communities in which they currently live, Kansas requires a separate state census that gives all of those people the choice of listing their current home as their home or being counted in some other community that they consider more their home.
State officials believe Kansas is the only state in the union to require such a count. College students literally will not be allowed to enroll next semester until they fill out the form.
The federal census count is used for a variety of purposes, including allocating federal funds and drawing congressional districts. The state census is used primarily to draw state legislative districts. Although students and military personnel get to choose where they are counted, the state census usually results in a population loss for counties that are home to large universities or military installations. That, in turn, means reduced representation for those counties in the Kansas Legislature.
The federal census logically counts student and military personnel in the communities that provide many services — police and fire protection, street maintenance, utilities, etc. — for those people. However, despite protests from the Kansas Secretary of State’s offices, the state has persisted in conducting — and paying for — the additional state census since 1989.
The state official who oversees the census told the Journal-World that the separate census is partly a rural-urban issue. Legislators from rural areas hope that counting students in their home communities will help preserve — at least on paper — the population of some rural Kansas towns. The only problem with that logic is that, by far, the top beneficiaries of the last state census shift were two of the state’s largest counties: Johnson and Shawnee, home to thousands of Kansas University and Kansas State University students.
On top of skewing the state population figures, the state census also confuses many people who think they already have filled out their census form and don’t need to participate in the federal census. So Lawrence officials are forced to buy stickers for pizza boxes and offer various promotional giveaway items to try to correct that misconception and get an accurate federal count.
The special state census is costly both to the state and to communities and produces questionable figures that are used almost exclusively to draw state legislative districts. That’s the kind of wasteful spending Kansas can’t afford and should eliminate.