Why is this Important?


A good education provides children with the foundation they need to think critically and to take effective action to reach their goals and fulfill their potential. A strong education also passes on the democratic values of our society and encourages students to become productive members of their communities.

The transition to a knowledge economy has placed a premium on highly skilled and educated workers, and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to be employed, earn higher incomes, and even have better health outcomes than their peers with a high school diploma or less. While the benefits of higher education have grown, rising tuition costs and increasing student loan debt are increasingly making a college degree unaffordable, especially for students from low-income families.

A 2008 report by the University of California, Berkeley Law School found that the two most significant factors determining children’s academic success were family income and English language ability. On standardized tests, the achievement gap between affluent and low-income students has risen 40% since the 1960s, with children on the bottom end of the income scale now lagging four years of school behind their peers at the upper end. In San Mateo County, nearly one quarter of public school students are classified as English learners (EL), and across the state, EL students score much lower on California Standards Tests than other groups. Addressing the negative effects of growing income inequality and the needs of a large EL population is crucial for improving the long-term education outcomes for these students.


What is a Sustainable State?


In a sustainable state, all children receive a high quality education that equips them with the tools and knowledge needed to pursue their dreams and participate productively in society. Students are reading proficiently in third grade, and high school and college graduation rates are high. School funding is equitable among districts serving all economic strata, and college is accessible and affordable for all.


Key Findings

  • There were 95,502 students enrolled in San Mateo County public schools in the 2015-2016 Academic Year. Hispanic/Latino students comprise 38% of county public school enrollment; white students make up 28%, and Asian students 14%.
  • Nearly one in four public school students in the county are classified as an English learner. Statewide, English learners score lower on California Standards Tests.
  • After many years of budget cuts for California public schools, a 2012 statewide tax initiative and an increase in capital gains have helped to restore funding levels.
  • While there are vast discrepancies in the county in public school funding, ranging from a low of $8,088 per pupil in the South San Francisco Unified School District to a high of $21,613 in the Woodside Elementary School District. The state’s new Local Control Funding Formula should provide more equitable school financing and channel more money to those students most in need.
  • Since 2007, the percentage of San Mateo County third grade public school students scoring proficient or higher on the English Language Arts state test has continued to rise and is now at 57%, higher than the state rate (45%). Nevertheless, socioeconomically disadvantaged children continue to lag behind their better-off peers.
  • San Mateo County’s high school graduation rate (88%) is among the highest in the state and the drop-out rate continues to fall. Although the county’s overall dropout rate is low, significant disparities exist by race/ethnicity.
  • Over half of San Mateo County high school graduates have completed the required courses for entrance into University of California or California State University schools with a grade of “C” or better, ranking the county fourth highest in the Bay Area behind Marin (61%), San Francisco (60%), and Alameda (55%).
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Average Class


Average Class Size 2011-2012

  • Average class sizes in the county have risen over the past five years and are larger than the state in all areas shown.

  • In the 2015-2016 Academic Year 24% of the 95,502 students enrolled in San Mateo County public schools were English learners.
  • 22% of California’s public school students are English learners.
  • The majority of English learners are in the early grade levels – over 50% of the English learners in San Mateo County are in kindergarten through grade four.


New Housing and Overcrowded Classrooms

School districts in San Mateo County are already facing overcrowding as class sizes have been on a rise for five years. New green-lit developments in Foster City and San Mateo will magnify the challenge. A fee was proposed by the Board of Trustees to the State Allocation Board to increase the maximum rate charged to developers. Although the fees cannot be used to modernize classroom and supplies, it can be used to cover the cost of classrooms.
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Public School Funding


  • Public school funding in the state has been based on a complex series of formulas that has led to vast discrepancies in per pupil expenditures by districts.
  • The new Local Control Funding Formula, approved by the California Board of Education in January 2014 seeks to make funding more equitable.
  • Woodside Elementary, the top county district in per-pupil expenditures, spent $13,525 more per pupil in 2014-2015 than South San Francisco Unified.

Local Control Funding

In January 2014, the California Board of Education approved the Local Control Funding Formula proposed by Governor Brown and approved by the state legislature in 2013. The goal of the new plan is to make allocations more equitable and to channel additional funds to students most in need: low-income students, foster children, and english learners. Under the plan, all districts receive base funding. Districts where needy students make up more than 40% of the enrollment will receive additional funding. Concentration grants will give districts where needy students comprise greater than 55% of enrollment even more funding.

After several years of budget cuts for California public schools, a 2012 statewide tax initiative and an increase in capital gains have helped to restore funding levels.

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Third Grade Reading Proficiency

  • Third grade language arts proficiency is one of the strongest predictors of future academic success as students who cannot read proficiently at this stage begin to fall behind in other subject areas.
  • For school year 2012-13, 57% of county third graders scored proficient or higher on the English Language Arts/California Standards Test, a 1% decline from the year prior.

  • Since 2007-08, all Bay Area counties and the state have shown significant improvements in the percent of third graders scoring proficient or higher on the English Language Arts/California Standards Test.

  • There is a sizable difference in language arts proficiency by economic status, with only 34% of economically disadvantaged students scoring proficient or higher versus 72% of their counterparts who are not economically disadvantaged.
  • An ever larger achievement gap is shown when looking at English Language Arts Proficiency based on education attainment of the parents. For students who have a parent who attended graduate school or higher, 82% scored proficient or higher versus only 25% for students whose parents have not graduated from high school.

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Graduation and Dropout Rates


  • San Mateo County’s graduation and dropout rates remained the same compared to the previous year, however the number of students that graduated with UC/CSU requirements met increased by 55%.
UC/CSU Requirements: 12th-grade graduates who completed all the courses required for University of California (UC) and/or California State University (CSU) entrance with a grade of “C” or better.
Dropout: students in a 4-year cohort who left the 9-12 instructional system without a high school diploma, GED, or special education certificate of completion and did not remain enrolled after the end of the 4th year.
GED, Certificate, or Continued Enrollment: students who pass the General Education Development (GED) test, complete requirements necessary to obtain a special education certificate of completion, or remain enrolled in the 9-12 instructional system without a high school diploma.


  • Although the county’s overall dropout rate is low, significant disparities exist by race/ethnicity.
  • The graduation rates for Filipino students increased by 3% in 2014-2015.

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Student Loan Debt

Although the rewards of obtaining a college degree are growing, so is the price tag for achieving one. According to a report by the PEW Charitable Trusts, in the early 1990s, less than half of U.S. college students graduated with outstanding student loan debt. Now, close to two-thirds graduate with debt. While more students are in debt, the amount owed is also growing. In 2010, the average outstanding college loan debt was $26,682, an increase of 52% from 2001 (adjusted for inflation, $2011).
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