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What Prop. 28 funding will mean for arts education in California

Students make their way to class for the first day of school at Tustin Ranch Elementary School in Tustin on Aug. 12, 2021.
The Orange County Register
via AP Photo
Students make their way to class for the first day of school at Tustin Ranch Elementary School in Tustin on Aug. 12, 2021.

Prop. 28 will provide about $1 billion each year in funding to California public schools, starting in 2023. Former Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, a chief backer of the initiative, discusses how it will work.

On Nov. 8, Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 28, which will bring a windfall of arts education funding to California schools. Advocates say the investment is long overdue, as arts education has declined in most districts — particularly those in low-income areas — for decades. While the state requires arts education in grades one to six and a year of arts education in high school, it’s up to districts to decide how to fund and implement it. The result has been an inconsistent patchwork of arts programs that leave many children with little exposure to music, dance, art and other creative forms of expression.

Proposition 28 funds will be distributed according to enrollment, with 70% based on overall enrollment and 30% based on Title 1 enrollment. In all, districts will receive an additional 1% of their funding allotment to spend on the arts. School boards must certify districts’ Prop. 28 budgets annually, post the expenses on the district’s website and submit the information to the state Department of Education, where it will be available to the public.

Schools must spend 80% of the money on teachers and aides, which should help alleviate California’s teacher shortage, with the remainder of the funds earmarked for art supplies and materials.

We talked to former Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, a chief backer of Proposition 28, about what students, families and schools can expect when the measure goes into effect in 2023.

What, specifically, will Proposition 28 do for California schools?

Prop. 28 will provide about $1 billion each year in funding to California public schools, so all 6 million students in pre-K through 12th grade can participate in arts and music at school.

Where will the money come from?

The funds will come from the state’s general fund. There will be no new taxes or increase in tax rates.

Why is arts education important to you, personally?

As a shy kid entering a new school in fifth grade during the middle of a school year, my concern was not literacy or math. It was who was I going to have lunch with my first day of school since I didn’t know anyone. Fortunately, a music teacher invited me to a lunchtime class. Cello became bass and then guitar. Along with it came a sense of agency and confidence. I could play in front of thousands of people before I could speak in front of tens. But it all started with a group of friends and a sense of belonging in that fifth grade class.

Everyone who has had the opportunity to participate in arts and music has a story like mine.

The arts are universal, and they’re the glue that bonds together literacy and math in a good education. I want to make sure every child in every classroom has the opportunity to participate in arts and music and experience their own story.

What’s the status of arts education in California schools currently?

Unfortunately, barely 1 in 5 California public schools has a full-time arts or music teacher.

That’s not acceptable.

What kinds of arts activities and projects can students and families expect to see come out of this?

Proposition 28 will provide funding for traditional forms of creative expression like music, theater, dance and visual arts, as well as more contemporary areas including filmmaking, animation and graphic design. A novel feature of Prop. 28 is each school community will get to decide how the funds are used. We didn’t want the bureaucrats in Sacramento or school districts to dictate any particular approach. Families can help decide what they want for their children.

Will there be a broader impact in California?

The impact will be seen in schools and communities, where Prop. 28 will create more than 15,000 additional jobs for teachers and teachers’ aides as well as in community arts organizations. This will help prepare California school children for good-paying jobs, not just in the arts but in other sectors where the creative-thinking and problem-solving skills they learn can be applied.

Longer term, Prop. 28 will lead to greater diversity in the technology, media and entertainment industries as a broader population of students in California public schools find the doors of opportunity open for them with their newfound skills and experiences.

What’s the benefit of arts education generally for students?

Research shows children who participate in the arts have better attendance in school and higher achievement in academic subjects. In addition, the arts help students with their social and emotional well-being. That’s timely and important as school communities and the children they serve recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the passage of Proposition 28, how will California compare to other states in arts education?

The passage of Prop. 28 makes California a leader in arts education and will lead to the largest investment in arts and music in our nation’s history. My hope is this will start a movement which other states join to provide all 55 million children in public schools the opportunity to participate in arts and music at school.

Prop. 28 passed by a wide margin. What does that tell you?

Proposition 28 passed with more than 64% of the vote, the largest margin of victory ever for an education initiative in California. The state Voter Guide showed our arguments for the initiative while the opposing page was blank but for the words, “No Argument was Submitted in Opposition to Prop. 28.” Because there are none.

For the first time in a long, long time, teachers and school staff were joined by artists and entrepreneurs along with business, labor and community organizations to support public education. Proposition 28 is the first guaranteed increase in funding for California public schools in 34 years. I hope we can build on this and continue to advocate for the best possible education for the children in California’s public schools.

EdSource is a California-based independent nonprofit organization founded in 1977, dedicated to providing analysis on key education issues facing the state and nation.