SAN DIEGO (AP) — From Hollywood movies to the Beach Boys and Snoop Dogg, California has been a world-famous incubator of the arts.
Yet arts education is lagging in the state’s public schools. Advocacy organizations say fewer than a quarter of them have a full-time arts or music education teacher, and most schools serving low-income students offer few, if any, courses in dance, music, theater and visual arts.
An effort backed by a celebrity lineup that includes Barbra Streisand and Los Angeles-born rappers will.i.am and Dr. Dre is trying to change that with the help of voters this November.
A ballot measure would pump as much as $1 billion a year from the state’s general fund into arts education, California’s legislative analyst estimates.
Programs that could benefit go beyond the traditional art, theater, dance and music classes to include graphic design, computer coding, animation, music composition and script writing.
Austin Beutner, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is behind the measure. He and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say the funding will help the arts continue to thrive in California, contributing to its robust economy, and would be especially important in helping students who struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The irony is glaring as California is the capital of the world’s creative economy,” Beutner and Duncan said in a guest commentary this year for CalMatters, a nonprofit news organization.
“This initiative is timely as our country seeks to create a more just and equitable future for all children,” they wrote. “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.”
The measure would require the state to provide funding equivalent to 1% of California’s state funding for public schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The measure would send 30% of that money to low-income school districts, which have a large number of Black and Latino students
The campaign supporting the measure has widespread support and no organized opposition, a rarity. It is backed by everyone from the state teachers’ union to the Los Angeles County Business Federation, and has received more than $8 million in contributions, according to the latest campaign finance filings.
Some critics have expressed concerns about earmarking more money from the state’s general fund when California faces many other challenges, from homelessness to wildfires.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board initially opposed the measure for that reason, but later endorsed it.
“This initiative is a backdoor way to funnel more state money into schools and that its approach is more pragmatic than perfect,” a recent Times editorial said. “But that is not reason enough to vote no and deprive California children of these opportunities.”
“All kids deserve the quality arts education that California promises but has failed to deliver at many of its public schools,” it said.