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California Proposition 28: Arts Education in Public Schools
Proposition 28 would require the state to set aside 1% of revenue in the general fund for arts education in K-12 public schools.
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California law requires public schools to offer a range of arts courses, “including dance, music, theater, and visual arts.” But in practice, most California schools teach only a handful of these disciplines — if they teach them at all. Advocates say these gaps are the lingering result of years of education budget cuts. Proposition 28 is their solution — a ballot measure that would set aside millions to fund arts programming in schools every year.

The official title on the ballot: Provides Additional Funding For Arts And Music Education In Public Schools. Initiative Statute.

What your vote means
  • A "yes" vote means you would be voting to...

    • Set aside approximately $1 billion that California already collects in taxes each year for arts education programs in K-12 schools.
    • Distribute that money to school districts based mostly on their student enrollment, though schools with higher numbers of low-income students would get additional funding from the new fund.
    • Require schools who receive the money to spend most of it on hiring new staff, though some of the funds could be spent on supplies.
  • A "no" vote means you would be voting to...

    • Continue distributing funding to schools as California does currently. The state already gives districts and charter schools broad freedom to spend their allotments of state funding, and schools could still choose to use it to fund arts programs.

What The Measure Would Do

In 1988, California voters passed Proposition 98, which requires state lawmakers to spend at least 40% of revenues in the state’s general fund on K-12 schools and community colleges.

Every year, this amount — known as the Prop. 98 “minimum guarantee” for schools — rises and falls with the state’s economic fortunes, following a complex set of official calculations. In 2022-23, this minimum guarantee for schools was $101 billion.

Proposition 28 would not raise taxes or increase the amount of money flowing into the state’s general fund.

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Proposition 28 would, however, require lawmakers to set aside even more money — in an amount equal to 1% of the minimum guarantee — and dedicate these funds to arts education in K-12 schools. Thus, in the 2022-23 budget, 1% of $101 billion equals a little more than $1 billion for arts education.

As noted above, California law requires that schools offer a wide range of classes in the arts, but one comprehensive survey found that only 11% of the state’s schools offered “comprehensive” courses in all four subjects; 21% didn’t offer any. About half of the state offered instruction in just one or two. Students in lower- and even mixed-income communities were less likely to have art in school, the study found. Many schools, especially in affluent communities, rely on parent fundraising to support arts offerings. Proposition 28 is an effort to provide the funding that schools need to offer comprehensive arts education.

Schools could use this new pot of money — which will also grow or shrink with the economy — to fund a wide range of arts programs. In addition to more traditional dance, theater and music classes, Prop. 28 specifically makes reference to offerings in folk art, crafting, graphic design, animation, and even computer coding.

While some Prop. 28 money could be spent on supplies, the bulk of it would be set aside for hiring an estimated 15,000 new part- or full-time instructors, said Austin Beutner, the former LAUSD superintendent, and leader of the Proposition 28 campaign, in an interview with KPCC’s AirTalk.

Most of the Prop. 28 money (70%) would be distributed to school districts and publicly-funded charter schools on the basis of their enrollment. Another 30% of the funds would be distributed to schools based on how many “economically disadvantaged” students they serve.

Opponents — who have run no formal campaign against Prop. 28 — argue that the measure, while well-intentioned, would limit schools’ options to navigate future budget crises.

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Arguments For

Advocates have long contended that arts classes are not enrichment activities or extras, but essential pieces of a well-rounded education.

Researchers have found academic, social and emotional benefits among students who participate in arts education classes. One oft-cited study showed low-income students who attended “arts-rich” K-12 schools were twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than peers who attended “arts-poor” schools.

Arts education leads to “better student attendance, better emotional and wellbeing for students,” Beutner said. “And it will better prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow in the creative economy, which is the number one employer in the state of California.”

Schools have the option to spend their current allotment of state funding on arts education. However, Beutner contended that schools won’t prioritize arts and music unless voters set money aside for that purpose.

“It's not getting done by the legislature,” said Beutner, who’s largely bankrolling the Prop. 28 campaign. As of Oct. 4, Beutner alone has made $4.2 million of the campaign’s $10.9 million in total contributions. (businessman Steve Ballmer, the third-biggest.)

“I'm not prepared,” he said, “to go [to] the eight-in-ten students who don't have a chance to participate in arts and music and say, ‘We know you need it … it's going to help you in your life in so many ways,’ but I'm sorry, we're not going to provide it.”

Arguments Against

No formal opposition campaign has emerged. However, critics of the measure sum up their problem with Prop. 28 in a phrase: “ballot box budgeting.”

Lance Christensen, a vice president at the conservative California Policy Center and a candidate for California superintendent of public instruction, contends it’s easy to create a dedicated arts funds during years when the state’s coffers are overflowing with cash (as they are now).

But what happens if budget reductions are necessary, and maintaining this arts education fund forces lawmakers to cut more deeply elsewhere?

“If you tie this in through a ballot initiative with the people,” Christensen argues, “you'll have a problem. In order to fix problems with it down the road, you likely have to take it back to the people and it costs millions of dollars just for the [ballot measure] process alone.”

In a way, a fund set aside for a specific purpose would be a throwback: California schools used to draw their funding from several “categorical” funding streams, each earmarked for a specific purpose. If a school was short in one fund, it couldn’t easily move money over from another. In the last decade, California’s moved away from that system, giving K-12 schools more flexibility to spend their state funding as they see fit.

Christensen also expresses worry that a dedicated fund for arts education would hamstring local leaders in a crisis.

“Are you going to fire an English, history or math teacher, but keep your arts or music teachers there because they're funded underneath a different formula?” he contended. “These are conversations local school districts have to have.”

Follow The Money

Former LAUSD superintendent (and former investment banker) Austin Beutner is the primary contributor to Proposition 28 approval, followed by businessman Steve Ballmer and the California Teachers Association.

Financial impact statement

The ballot measure’s official fiscal impact statement:

Increased state costs of about $1 billion annually, beginning next year, for arts education in public schools.

What this means:

California is currently required to spend at least 40% of revenues in the state’s general fund on K-12 schools and community colleges, also known as the minimum guarantee. If Proposition 28 passes, California would have to spend an additional 1% of revenues in the state’s general fund on arts education in public schools. That’s where the $1 billion in costs to the state come in.

California presently has a generous budget surplus, so these additional costs would not come at the expense of anything else at this time, but that could change in the event of a budget shortfall.

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