Protesters react
Protesters react to proposed cuts to arts funding | Credit: Henri Neuendorf

The anemic California polling numbers for this past primary election (12 percent of the population voted) don’t bode well for the fall, but there is a long-sought arts initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot. The California Art and Music K-12 Education Funding Initiative has qualified for the general election; as the name states, it’s meant to bolster school arts programs.

The initiative would require the state to find a source of revenue to fund K-12 arts education equal, at a minimum, to one percent of the total state and local revenues that local education agencies receive from Proposition 98 funding. You may remember that Proposition 98 sets a floor for spending on K-14 education equal to 40 percent of the general budget, modified by factors such as school enrollment and cost of living increases. The new initiative requires the arts education money to be added to school spending (and not simply taken from existing funding). The initiative also contains allocation requirements that would direct more funding to schools with a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students.

The initiative is a response to the insecurity of arts programs, which are often among the first things to be cut or curtailed when a school district experiences budget difficulties or shortfalls. Californians for Arts and Music Education in Public Schools is the leading advocacy group behind the legislation, which has been endorsed by Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the California Teachers Association. Californians for Arts reminds us that only one in five schools has a dedicated arts or music teacher.

The primary argument against this measure would be that, once again, it establishes an inflexible mandate for spending, which, along with other mandates, then make it harder for the legislature to put together a reasonable budget, particularly when the state experiences shortfalls or emergencies like the 2008 recession. Supporters of the initiative would point to the dismal lack of arts teachers in the schools as precisely the reason for the mandate: It’s too easy to cut arts programs early in a budgeting process, and then that money and those programs never return.

In any case, this is your early warning: Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more information as the general election approaches.

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