In November, California voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 28, an initiative that provides about $1 billion in new ongoing money specifically for arts education. This exciting measure will enable schools to hire new arts staff and create new programs for arts instruction in all PreK-12 public schools.
The task now confronting leaders across the state is to ensure that the measure is implemented as voters intended, with equity front and center. California needs a strong pipeline to identify, train and hire new arts staff.
This investment is timely and important. Mounting evidence shows that arts education boosts young people's educational attainment, bolsters their social and emotional resiliency, and creates more welcoming and engaging school communities. These benefits of arts education are increasingly crucial as we emerge from the pandemic.
Overview of California’s new commitment to arts education
How much new ongoing money do California public schools get specifically for arts education?
1% of the amount guaranteed by Prop 98 annually - currently about $1 billion.
How is the money distributed?
The additional funding from Prop. 28 is disbursed on the basis of enrollment in PreK-12 schools. Of the total, 70% goes to schools based on their share of statewide enrollment. The remaining 30% goes to schools based on their share of all low-income students enrolled statewide.
What must the money be used for?
The funding must be used for arts education programs. At least 80 percent of the additional funding must be used to hire staff. The rest may be used for training, supplies and materials, and for arts educational partnership programs. All funds must supplement, not supplant, existing arts education programs.
Who decides how the money is spent?
The intent of Proposition 28 is that funds will reach schools, with an eye to equity. School boards and equity advocates will work to make sure this is how it plays out.
Each year, local governing boards must certify that the funding their schools received for arts education was spent on arts education.
For decades, California law has required schools to provide arts education in four arts disciplines — music, visual art, dance, and theater. This law was widely ignored, so there is a lot of work to be done. Research commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation from SRI Education and published in September 2022 showed that barely more than one in 10 (11%) of schools across the state are meeting that standard.
The same study confirmed what was widely suspected — access to arts education in California has been fraught with inequities. For example, the percentage of students receiving instruction in the two most common arts disciplines was consistently lower in schools serving low-income students—22% lower for music and 28% lower for visual arts. This is measured by students qualified to receive free or reduced price meals (FRPM).
By committing to new funding, California voters have put school communities in a position to begin closing the arts education gap. The math included in the proposition provides new money for low-income school communities, a good start to ensuring improved equity in access to arts education for all California students. But it’s only a start.
Policymakers in Sacramento, as well as leaders at County Offices of Education and school districts across the state have an enormous opportunity to eliminate long-standing educational disparities in who benefits from quality, culturally responsive arts education.
Prop 28 rightly requires that the new funding be used primarily to hire new arts staff. Districts will need to put attention to hiring inspiring educators for the next big step in this journey. These dedicated educators are the heart and soul of successful arts programming in schools. California has made strides in recent years to train new arts educators through the passage of 2016’s Theater and Dance Act (TADA), which reinstated teacher credentialing in those disciplines.
Decades of disinvestment in arts education can’t be overcome in a flash.
Decades of disinvestment in arts education can’t be overcome in a flash. At least for the moment, there simply aren’t enough teachers in California ready to meet the hiring requirements. Further, the current pool of credentialed arts educators - like the overall teaching pool in California and the nation - does not reflect the racial and cultural diversity of California’s public school students. Districts have three years to spend Prop 28 dollars so there is time for proper planning and recruitment of qualified educators.
Meeting this immense need for new arts educators will require creativity and flexibility, both during a transitional period as Prop 28 funds come online for public schools, and over the long term. Crucially, the new roles that are created should be filled by well-prepared, properly compensated creative educators. There is also an opportunity in hiring that Prop 28 will enable the field of arts education to diversify so that more educators look like the students they are teaching, and come from the communities they are serving.
This is a moment worth celebrating. Every student deserves a well-rounded education, including the arts. Investing in arts education will help California rectify historic inequities that have been embedded in our public education system.
Now it’s time to get to work.
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