Arts education is woefully underfunded in California schools

Fatima Fokina

In summary

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

By Austin Beutner

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

Arne Duncan, Special to CalMatters

Arne Duncan served as U.S. Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2015 and is the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

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

Study after study has demonstrated the importance of arts and music education in the development of children and their success in school and in life. As education leaders, we have seen first-hand the value of an arts education. 

Arts and music education improves cognitive development, reasoning and language acquisition; it corresponds with higher student achievement in reading and math, and it leads to increased school attendance. Participating in the arts is especially urgent now to support students’ mental wellbeing amidst the ongoing impact of COVID-19.              

Despite these clear and demonstrated benefits for children, California is behind when it comes to providing schools with funding for arts and music education – and the irony is glaring as California is the capital of the world’s creative economy, supporting 2.6 million jobs in the state. Only 1 in 5 public schools in California has a dedicated teacher for traditional arts programs like music, dance, theater and art, or newer forms of creative expression like computer graphics, animation, coding, costume design and filmmaking. 

According to an analysis issued by California’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, the proposed Arts and Music in Schools measure would provide additional funding to every Pre-K-12 public school in California for arts and music education without raising taxes. Schools serving low-income communities would receive even more funding, helping Black and Latino children who are most likely to lack access to arts education. School funding for the arts will increase by almost $900 million each year and arts programs in schools will grow by more than 50%. 

As education leaders, we strongly support how the initiative requires 100% of the additional school funds to be used for arts and music education, with a focus on hiring teachers and aides. The 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 the funds are spent as intended – to directly benefit students. It prohibits schools from diverting existing funds away from arts and music education. Schools and school districts would be required to publish reports showing how the money was used, the specific arts programs funded and how they align with state standards. 

The Arts and Music in Schools measure, proposed for the November 2022 election, has support from a diverse coalition of educators, artists, entrepreneurs, community organizations and civic leaders who recognize the importance of an arts education. “Arts and Music education teaches collaboration and creative thinking that are essential in life and virtually every job,” notes initiative supporter will.i.am, Grammy Award-winning musician, producer and tech entrepreneur. 

This initiative is timely as our country seeks to create a more just and equitable future for all children. A boost in arts and music education will help ensure the future workforce in media and technology properly reflect the diversity of the children in our public schools. 

“This ballot measure will help define the promise of the next generation of storytellers by ensuring all California students get the high-quality arts and music education they deserve,” says Issa Rae, an actress, writer and producer who supports the ballot measure. “It will especially benefit students from communities of color, who often experience a lack of access and equity in access to arts and music education.”

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 be making new records and telling their own stories as they build the skills and experiences to gain jobs in the state’s vibrant creative economy.

https://calmatters.org/commentary/2022/02/arts-education-is-woefully-underfunded-in-california-schools/

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