Contact Alison Cingolani for more information.

View The Missing Piece: How New Homes Can Help Save Our Schools from Declining Enrollment, a conversation with Peter Ortiz, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, Jennifer DiBrienza, Vice President of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board, Steve Levy, Director and Senior Economist of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, and Kenneth Rosales, Planning Senior Associate at SV@Home.


Most school districts across Santa Clara County have been losing students for years, even before the pandemic, leading to budget woes and the painful closure of neighborhood schools. This declining enrollment is affecting not only our traditional public elementary schools, but private and charter schools too. Learn more about how individual school districts across the county are affected. Trends in elementary school enrollment are important to understanding not only today’s school conditions, but also the future of Silicon Valley’s high schools, universities, and future economic strength and resilience.

Even more widespread enrollment declines of more than 15% are expected throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in the next decade, causing financial, staffing, and facility challenges that will negatively impact students in many districts. Why is this happening, and what can communities and school leaders do to help?

A recent report commissioned by Silicon Valley Community Foundation, with community partners Palo Alto Forward and Silicon Valley at Home, uncovered an important finding about the relationship between new housing, school district stability, and financial security. New housing can actually help many districts with declining enrollment – avoiding revenue losses and associated staffing cutbacks and facility closures.

“In recent years, schools throughout Santa Clara County have been struggling with declining enrollment, which is incredibly destabilizing to our schools, our families, and our neighborhoods,” said Peter Ortiz, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education. “Additional housing that is affordable to young families would bring more children back into our communities and help stabilize our schools.”

How can planning for more housing help?

All Bay Area cities are currently making 8-year plans (called housing elements) to accommodate their fair share of the region’s housing for people of all income levels. This share has already been assigned by the Bay Area’s regional government, based on the existing need for housing and anticipated growth. While the planning process is required, cities generally do not build housing; they are responsible for creating the conditions through policy and land use decisions that will allow the market to produce housing.

Currently, lower-income families are being pushed out of the South Bay by the high cost of housing, resulting in big impacts to school enrollment, because there is not enough housing affordable to families (especially those with younger children). In most cities, existing policies are not producing enough affordable housing to meet the city’s goals or the community’s needs. The ongoing housing element process can be used to support schools that are struggling with enrollment declines, by ensuring that the city is taking this into consideration when planning locations for new housing affordable to families, and implementing policies to help make sure the development is feasible.

We encourage education leaders and school community members to speak up to highlight this connection between planning for new housing and school enrollment, and become actively engaged in their city’s plan for new housing, through the Housing Element update. Learn more about the Housing Element and how to get involved, and find helpful resources in the SV@Home Housing Element Toolkit.

What’s happening with school enrollment in your city?

Click to view detailed elementary enrollment trends for the county & city.

Take Action!

Click here to find sample language you can use to write your own letter to your city council, planning department, and planning commission! Simply copy and paste the language into a blank document, then customize to make it your own. Ask your city to take full advantage of the ongoing housing element process to support schools that are struggling with enrollment declines, by taking the needs of school communities into consideration when planning locations for new housing affordable to families, and implementing policies that help ensure the development is feasible.

A powerful discussion on the housing-schools connection

View SV@Home and Palo Alto Forward’s virtual event The Missing Piece: How New Homes Can Help Save Our Schools from Declining Enrollment, a conversation with Peter Ortiz, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, Jennifer DiBrienza, Vice President of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board, and Steve Levy, Director and Senior Economist of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.

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