By Vishak Srikanth
If you notice more easels in your art studio class or more mellifluous notes emanating from your school’s orchestra, or run into more art and music teachers in the hallways in the next school year, you might have Prop 28 to thank! This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 28, which aims to increase funding for arts education in public schools.
First, some background to understand why this critical measure came to be on the ballot this year: Proposition 13 in 1978 decreased property taxes overall, resulting in reduced funds allotted for California’s K-12 schools. However, Proposition 98, enacted in 1998, amended our state’s constitution to earmark a minimum percentage of the state budget for K-12 education. This percentage is called a “minimum guarantee.” The minimum guarantee was determined by a complex set of factors including student attendance rates, cost of living changes, and changes in state and local revenues. The minimum guarantee in 2021-2022 was a staggering $93.7 billion as California K-12 public schools enrolled over 6 million students. While this might seem excessive, spending per student is still only in the range of $17,000, which places the state at 19th in spending and in funding.
Due to the skyrocketing cost of living, inflation, and pandemic-related disruptions, schools have been struggling to provide students with much-needed supplies and infrastructure, while teachers’ salaries suffer accordingly. In response, schools have been cutting back on arts education for elementary and middle school students, deeming them to be lower priority than education in science, social studies, technology, and vocational subjects. While California has a few notable enrichment and summer programs such as the After School Education and Safety Program and the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program that have artistic components, these do not make up for the cutbacks in schools. Research studies have shown that the arts build skills that are not only fundamental for learning other subjects, but that are also important for our mental well-beings. While California is the epicenter of the music, theater, film and technology industries—which are critical for the state’s economic health—such industries rely on workers skilled at the intersection of the traditional arts as well as creative technologies such as computer graphics, animation, coding, costume design and filmmaking. In order to maintain California’s position as the preeminent destination for employers in the entertainment, technology and media industries, it becomes imperative to provide better access to arts education. Proposition 28 aims to address this issue by providing additional funding for arts education to all K-12 public schools to “future-proof” our state’s economy by ensuring that we have a workforce equipped with the skills needed for careers in media and technology.
How will this proposition be funded, and what rules do schools funded by this initiative need to adhere to? Prop28 will require that California schools receiving funds from the state General Fund allocate 1% of funds they receive to be spent on arts education. Schools serving more economically underprivileged students can receive a larger proportion of funds to provide better access to such programs. Prop28 mandates that at least 80% of the funds allotted be spent to employ teachers and participate in training, supplies, and education partnerships. Lastly, Prop28 also has periodic audit and reporting requirements, placing a cap on administrative costs to 1% of funding.
Proponents of Prop28 argue that an arts education is essential to fostering creativity. They also claim that education in the arts is essential to improving student outcomes such as test scores and attendance. Further, they claim that the measure will not raise taxes, as it only provides a mandatory allocation of existing funding that schools receive.
Prominent supporters Austin Beutner, former Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, argue that fewer than 1 in 5 public schools in California have a dedicated teacher for arts programs. They claim that,in order to ensure an equitable future for all children and secure a skilled workforce, we need Proposition 28 to pass. Actress and producer Issa Rae states that Prop28 will help build the next generation of storytellers by making a high-quality arts education more accessible. Famous artists and musicians, including Al Yankovich, Katy Perry, and Dr. Dre, have endorsed this measure, too. Other noted supporters include Steven Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft; Antonia Hernández, the President and CEO of California Community Foundation; Michael Lawson, the President and CEO of Los Angeles Urban League; Andy Mooney, the CEO of Fender Musical Instruments Corp; and Ravi Rajan, the President of California Institute of the Arts.
Opponents of the proposition, such as San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times, have called the proposition as fiscally irresponsible, citing it to be another “lock-in” scheme where there are no new revenue sources that can cover the projected annual cost of up to $1 billion. Sources warn that it will leave less money on the table for other state programs, lengthening the period for California to pay off its debt. They further argue that Prop28 gives California the power tomandate funding levels for different programs within schools— a decision best left to each local school board.
Whether this passes the ballot or not, the proposition is unique in that it has not registered significant fundraising campaigns for its opposition, and there are no large lobbying, trade, or interest groups that have openly come out in opposition. While shining the spotlight on the devastating impact that deep cuts in public school funding in the wake of the 2008 recession and 2020 pandemic have had, the proposition paves a path forward for schools that are yet to recover, particularly in large urban school districts. Personally, I hope that the proposition passes and that our schools wisely utilize the funding to improve the quality of arts education we receive. Should they do so, we as students may enjoy better avenues to express our creativity.
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