Art education in California schools is woefully underfunded

in summary

The Arts and Music in Schools measure will provide nearly $900 million for arts and music education in California public schools.

By Austin Beutner

Austin Beutner, former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is the proponent of the Arts and Music in Schools measure.

Arne Duncan, specifically for CalMatters

Arne Duncan was US Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2015 and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

This November, California voters may have the opportunity to improve the lives of more than 6 million schoolchildren by increasing funding for quality arts and music education in every state public school.

Study after study has shown how important arts and music education are to children’s development and their success in school and in life. As leaders in education, we have seen the value of an arts education first hand.

Art and music classes improve cognitive development, reasoning and language acquisition; it corresponds to higher student performance in reading and mathematics and leads to increased school attendance. Participation in the arts is especially urgent now to support the spiritual well-being of students amid the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

Despite these clear and proven benefits for children, California lags behind when it comes to providing schools with funding for arts and music classes – and the irony is obvious given that California is the creative industries capital of the world, and 2.6 million Jobs supported in the state. Only 1 in 5 public schools in California has a dedicated teacher for traditional arts programs such as music, dance, drama and art or newer forms of creative expression such as computer graphics, animation, programming, costume design and filmmaking.

According to analysis released by the independent California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the proposed “Arts and Music in Schools” measure would provide every public school under age 12 in California with additional funding for arts and music education without a tax increase. Schools that serve low-income communities would get even more funding to help black and Hispanic children who most likely don’t have access to arts education. School funding for the arts will increase by nearly $900 million each year, and arts programs in schools will grow by more than 50%.

As education leaders, we strongly support that the initiative requires that 100% of additional tuition funds be used for arts and music education, with a focus on hiring teachers and assistants. Funding can also help with staff training, supplies, materials and educational partnerships with arts and community organizations.

The measure includes strict accountability measures to ensure funds are spent as intended – to benefit students directly. It prohibits schools from diverting existing funds to arts and music education. Schools and school districts would have to publish reports showing how the money was used, what specific arts programs were funded, and how they matched state standards.

The Arts and Music in Schools measure proposed for the November 2022 elections is supported by a diverse coalition of educators, artists, entrepreneurs, community organizations and civil society leaders who recognize the importance of an arts education. “Art and music education teaches collaboration and creative thinking, which are essential in life and in virtually every job,” notes, initiative supporter, Grammy-winning musician, producer and technology entrepreneur.

This initiative comes at the right time as our country strives to create a fairer and fairer future for all children. Fostering arts and music education will help ensure that the future media and technology workforce appropriately reflects the diversity of children in our public schools.

“This voting effort will help define the promise of the next generation of storytellers by ensuring all California students receive the quality arts and music education they deserve,” says Issa Rae, an actress, writer and producer, supporting the voting action. “It will particularly benefit students from communities of color who often lack access and equity in accessing art and music classes.”

Years of excuses about the lack of support for arts education must sound like a broken record to public school kids and their families. With the support of voters across California, the next generation of public school students could set new records and tell their own stories while gaining the skills and experience to find jobs in the state’s vibrant creative industries.

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