Which Funder Is Giving Big for Early Literacy in San Mateo County?

In San Mateo County, a county that’s in the top 1 percent of affluent U.S. counties, about 43 percent of children aren’t reading proficient by third-grade. That percentage jumps to about 60 percent for minority kids. This alarming statistic spawned the creation of the Big Lift, a countywide effort to make at least 80 percent of youngsters literate by 2020.

The Big Lift is led by the County of San Mateo and the San Mateo County Office of Education, but it takes a massive foundation with over $4.7 billion in assets and control over 1,650 philanthropic funds to get things moving. Cue the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.  

These are the local school districts that will benefit from SVCF’s latest $5 million commitment to the Big Lift. Each of these schools scored below language proficient on standarized tests by 48 to 65 percent.

  • Cabrillo Unified School District
  • La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District
  • Jefferson Elementary School District
  • South San Francisco Unified School District

Then again, it doesn’t to have local sales tax dollars to kickstart the effort. The county was able to get the ball rolling with an initial $10 million gained from a voter-approved sales tax measure passed back in 2012.

And this is just the beginning. These four schools represent just the first wave of grants to be made over the next three years for this cause.

So where’s SVCF getting all this money to hand out to preschools?

Well last September, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) awarded SVCF a Social Innovation Fund grant. It was one of seven national recipients, and the award really is a big deal.

The 2014 Social Innovation Fund grant competition provided around $65 million to grantmakers around the country, awarding each one between $1 million and $10 million with matching grant requirements. SVCF now has $7.5 million to spend on boosting early literacy in San Mateo County.

If the program is successful over the next three years and if Congressional appropriations pan out, SVCF could get another $9 million for a fourth and fifth year. However, a little less, about $40 million, is up for grabs for the 2015 Competition.

Not only are these grant dollars working to help kids learn to read, but they’re also being applied to plans that reduce chronic absence and summer learning loss, while engaging parents and the community to support learning at home after school hours.

So with all of this going on, it might come as a surprise that early childhood education isn’t SVCF’s top overall grantmaking priority. More generally, SVCF has been focusing its recent grantmaking on students a little bit oldermiddle schoolers. The goal with these 6th to 8th graders has been to close the gap in mathematics education by improving math teachers and increasing the number of quality after –school and summer math programs.

Both of these targeted efforts are starting to make waves throughout the Bay Area, and there seems to be plenty more money flowing in the years ahead to keep those waves going.  To learn more about SVCF grantmaking check out the Education page and the Big Lift page.