Time to fund arts education?

by Carol Kocivar | March 6, 2022 | 0 Comments
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Many schools fail to teach arts

California law requires schools to provide students with education in the arts. The requirements are widely ignored.

How to sign the petition

Advocates for arts education, aiming to give the requirements some teeth, are gathering signatures to put an initiative on the November 2022 ballot. If passed, the California Art and Music K-12 Education Funding Initiative would provide California schools about $800 million to $1 billion each year of protected funding specifically for arts education, according to the state Legislative Analyst Office (LAO).

How is arts education funded?

California school districts receive most of their funding through a funding system known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Under this system, each school district has considerable flexibility to determine how it will deliver education, including arts education. Unfortunately, this flexibility leaves arts education vulnerable to local commitment. Many school districts, in an effort to prioritize other subjects, do not allocate funding to provide adequate arts education.

California Arts Education Requirements

Grades 1 to 6

shall include instruction in…

…visual and performing arts, including dance, music, theater, and visual arts, aimed at the development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.

Grades 7 to 12

shall offer courses in…

Arts education requirements are widely ignored in California schools. A 2019 study showed that over half of students in grades six and up aren't enrolled in any art study at all. Participation in arts follows a familiar pattern: schools where more families are poor are far less likely to provide students with access to education in the arts.

Why push for the arts now?

Advocates argue that the arts are more important than ever in difficult times. Psychology Today collected relevant research about it in a post titled “The Arts Are the Reset Button Students Need This School Year”. Highlights:

  • "Arts-based interventions are an effective way to engage students in their own healing and may help restore students' mental wellbeing.
  • Making art can alleviate stress, increase mindfulness, and help people process experiences and feelings in a safe space, research shows."

Student involvement in the arts is linked to stronger academic performance, higher standardized test scores, greater involvement in community service and lower dropout rates. Multiple studies show that arts education decreases feelings of anxiety and depression. The Reopening Schools Task Force of the California Department of Education urges all schools to keep the emotional well-being of all at the forefront.

How would the proposed initiative fund the arts?

The amount of money spent on education in California each year is largely determined by a formula that was set in law by Proposition 98. This initiative changed the California constitution, establishing a mechanism that calculates a legal minimum floor for education funding each year.

Policy analysts often point out that funding floors can unintentionally serve as ceilings. To make sure that funding for arts education does not cannibalize other education funding, the proposed initiative specifies that the money must come from the state general fund as an addition above Prop. 98 funding. Beginning in 2023-24, the new funding would be one percent of the total Proposition 98 funding in the prior year. Moving forward, the minimum guarantee would be adjusted upward to reflect the additional funding required by the measure.

The proposal would distribute 70 percent of the new funds to school districts and charter schools (technically LEAs) simply based on their enrollment. In order to deliver additional services where they are most needed, the remaining 30 percent would be distributed based on each LEA’s share of the state's low-income students.

Hiring additional staff for arts education is a priority of the proposed initiative. Districts and charter schools with more than 500 students would have to spend at least 80 percent of the additional funding to hire staff and certify that those staff were specifically providing arts education. The remaining money could be used for training, supplies and materials, and arts educational partnership programs.

The campaign estimates that this initiative would increase the number of arts teachers in California classrooms by 50%.

A long-time dream

Money dedicated to the arts has been a long-time goal of arts advocates. For example, the California State PTA passed a resolution calling for guaranteed funding of arts education in 1998. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was the author of the resolution.)

Resolved: That the California State PTA and its units, councils and districts support measures that would guarantee funding for high-quality arts education programs from pre-kindergarten through grade twelve and require that such programs be included in the school curriculum.

Who is behind this initiative?

The campaign for this initiative is led by Austin Beutner, a former Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District. A long list of educators, entertainers and arts organizations have signed on including Create CA, a statewide arts policy and advocacy organization. You can find out more on the campaign website.

Organizers have until May to collect 662,000 signatures, the minimum requirement to place the proposal in front of California voters in November. As we have pointed out many times, signature-gathering is an expensive process. According to Ballotpedia, in 2020 the average cost of a required signature was $7.22.

Who are the skeptics?

As of this writing, Ballotpedia has recorded no formal opposition to the measure. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times has argued that this measure is an example of "ballot-box budgeting" and a "back-door way to increase school funding."

What do you think?

March is Arts Education Month — a good time to discuss how your school provides the arts. Does your school provide a high quality arts education, as defined by the California arts content standards adopted in 2019? Do parents in your school know what arts are required?

Ed100 provides many resources to learn more about the arts:

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