All budgets are about priorities, including school district budgets. Occasionally, California voters disagree with budget priorities strongly enough to put a measure on the ballot that engages in what politicians ruefully call “ballot-box budgeting.”
On Nov. 8, voters in California will have the opportunity to increase spending on arts and music education in K-12 public schools. Proposition 28 would provide guaranteed funding from the state’s general fund to be used exclusively for arts education programs in subjects such as dance, media arts, music and theater, as well as visual arts including photography, craft arts, computer coding and graphic design.
Current state law requires schools to provide instruction in performing arts and visual arts to all students in first through sixth grade, and to offer these types of courses as electives in grades 7 and 8. How much money is spent on the programs, however, is left to the discretion of each local school board. Some arts education is funded by a total of nearly $5 billion per year for after-school programs, but that money is also used for academic programs such as tutoring and for physical fitness programs.
Proposition 28 requires dedicated additional funding for arts and music education in an amount equal to 1% of the constitutionally required state and local funding that public schools received the year before. The money would come from the general fund, about $1 billion per year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The measure does not raise taxes.
The funding would be distributed based on a formula that sends 70% to schools based on their share of statewide enrollment and 30% to schools based on their share of low-income students. At least 80% of the funding must be used to hire staff, no more than 1% may be spent on administration, and the rest of money goes for materials, musical instruments and other program expenses.
Prop. 28 requires local governing boards to certify every year that they’re spending the money on arts education, and to post on their websites how the money was spent.
California’s public schools have about 6 million students in grades K-12, and about 60% of those students are from low-income families. They deserve to have an enriched education that might otherwise be available only to students whose parents can pay for private instruction in the arts. Many students might find a path into good jobs in the state’s entertainment industry, including newer fields such as computer animation.
If Prop. 28 is approved by voters, we hope the state takes action to enable schools to hire well-qualified professionals who work in the arts to teach classes. It is unlikely that there are enough credentialed, certificated arts and music teachers to fill an estimated 15,000 openings simultaneously. It would be disappointing if teachers’ unions circled the wagons and fought any effort to draw from the state’s creative community to quickly expand the number of available instructors. A carefully crafted program to make emergency teaching credentials available would help to ensure that students have an inspiring experience.
Yes, it’s ballot-box budgeting, but if the state doesn’t spend this money on arts and music education, lawmakers will likely just waste it on something less valuable. Prop. 28 is an opportunity to enrich the lives of 6 million public school students. Vote yes.