In a sign of how the recession has affected California's children, statewide enrollment in the Free or Reduced Price School Meal Program grew by the largest amount in more than a decade, a local foundation reported.
Nearly 19,000 more California children enrolled in the federally subsidized meal program over the last school year, pushing the total enrollment to 53 percent of California public school students, according to the Palo Alto-based Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health.
Locally, 7.7 percent of Palo Alto school children qualified for the program this year, up from 6.6 percent in 2007.
In East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, which is served by the Ravenswood City School District, 85.2 percent of children qualified for the program, up from 84.3 percent in 2007.
In Menlo Park and Los Altos, the number of children qualifying for the program was less than 5 percent.
Countywide, 37.7 percent of school children in Santa Clara County qualified for the program, as did 33.7 percent of school children in San Mateo County.
To qualify for the federal lunch subsidy program, a child's family income must fall below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $40,793 for a family of four in 2009.
The numbers were made available through Kidsdata, a project of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health that aims to provide reliable data on the health and well-being of children. Most of the data is from public sources, though some comes from the foundation's Bay Area Parent Poll.
In the area of college readiness, Kidsdata cites the California Department of Education in reporting that 74.8 percent of Palo Alto graduates last year completed courses required for the University of California and/or California State University with a grade of "C" or better.
In the Sequoia Union High School District, which serves communities from Menlo Park to San Carlos, including East Palo Alto, that figure was 49.8 percent.
In the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, the figure was 67.5 percent.
In 2008, the Palo Alto school district had a 3.6 percent dropout rate, compared with 5.9 percent in Mountain View-Los Altos and 9 percent in the Sequoia Union High School District.
In Santa Clara County, the dropout rate is 15.3 percent; in San Mateo County, it is 12.7 percent. Statewide, the dropout rate is 20.1 percent, according to the California Department of Education.