State To Use U.Va. Cooper Center's School-Age Population Estimates to Set School Funding

July 11, 2011 — Demographers at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service have released estimates of the school-age population in Virginia's 136 school divisions. The estimates will be used in the state's 2012-14 biennial budget to allocate to school divisions their portion of 1.125 percent of the state sales and use tax.

The 2010 Virginia General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia to require the use of the Cooper Center's annual estimates of the population between ages 5 to 19. These estimates replace data previously collected by school divisions through the triennial census of the school-age population.

"School divisions rely on receiving a fair portion of the state sales and use tax," said Susan Clapp, the Cooper Center demographer who developed the estimates. "Using recent decennial census data as a starting point will improve accuracy and fairness."

Cooper Center research in 2008, led by Clapp, demonstrated that inaccurate local triennial census counts resulted in unequal dollars-per-child apportionment across the commonwealth, with 67 divisions receiving less funding than would be justified on the basis of their population. In addition, direct and indirect costs of conducting the triennial census placed a burden on school divisions. 

The legislative action makes the new estimates of the school-age population for distributing sales tax effective July 1, 2012, for the 2012-14 biennial budget. Thereafter, the estimates will be updated annually.

Cooper Center estimates are benchmarked on 2010 federal census data, and, consistent with requirements in the Code of Virginia, adjusted for each locality by assigning youth under age 20 who are in college or correctional facilities back to their home localities. As a result, the estimates of 5- to 19-year-olds will be smaller than the census count for some localities, particularly those with a large number of college students. In addition, the Virginia Department of Education adds to the estimates the number of special education students ages 2 through 4 and 20 through 21.

Qian Cai, director of the Cooper Center's demographics group, said the consistent and methodological approach will improve accuracy.

"Divisions that undercounted their school-age population in the past are likely to receive an increase in funding, while divisions that overcounted are likely to receive fewer funds than in the past," she said. "The General Assembly approved this approach to equalize dollars-per-child allocations across the commonwealth."

The Cooper Center estimates are posted here.

A brief paper describing estimate methodology also is available on the website.

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REPORTERS: Susan Clapp can be reached for comments at 434-982-5690 or

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