Voters should support Prop. 28, to support artistic and musical education

It’s hard to imagine anyone anywhere who doesn’t think, all things being equal, that we should spend substantially more money educating students in music and the arts.

Arts education not only opens up a world of culture, creativity, beauty and imagination, but repeated studies have shown, more prosaically, that it leads to improvements in students’ critical thinking, more empathy and less intolerance, and a stronger memory and attention. It is not a plugin for amateurs. In school, it leads to reductions in disciplinary infractions, improved attendance, and higher college aspirations, among other things.

Yet only 22 percent of California public schools (barely one in five) have a full-time art or music teacher (compared to 72 percent in New York City), they say the defenders

The simple truth, as one school superintendent put it, is that “in tough times … the first things that go out are the art programs.” They are easier to cut than reading, math or science, and the money doesn’t necessarily rematerialize when the crisis ends. Across the country, arts education has been in decline for three decades, says the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This is inconceivable.

And that’s why Californians should vote yes on Proposition 28, a measure on the November ballot to ensure dedicated funding for arts and music education in the state budget.

If passed, Proposition 28 would require the state to provide additional funding for the arts each year equal to 1 percent of the total constitutionally required state and local funding that public schools received the previous year . What does it mean? Well, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that in the first year, that would come to just under a billion dollars.

The money could be spent on programs in dance, theatre, music, photography or art, or in less traditional areas such as animation, digital music, screenwriting or beat making. It is up to local school officials.

The proposal allocates additional funds to schools that serve large numbers of low-income students.

No more than 1% of the extra money could be spent on administration. Eighty percent must be used to hire staff. The rest would be for training, supplies and other program costs.

Oh, and there’s no tax hike. The money would come from the general fund of the State budgets.

Who could oppose this measure? No one bothered to offer official arguments in opposition to the California Secretary of State. Proposed by former LA Unified School District Superintendent. (and former Los Angeles Times editor) Austin Beutner, Proposition 28 has the support of a wide range of groups, including the LAUSD Board of Education, the California Teachers Assn., the state PTA and the Business Federation of LA County.

The argument against Proposition 28 is that it is a “ballot box budget.”

It’s called when voters make a state budget decision directly at the polls, bypassing the Legislature through a ballot measure and tying lawmakers’ hands for the future.

The concern is that the budget at the ballot box does not allow lawmakers to set their own priorities. What if, for example, five years from now, less money is needed for arts education (for example, because school tuition is falling) and more is needed to deal with increased housing for homeless people or devastating wildfires? With limited resources, will lawmakers have the flexibility to respond?

I completely agree that budgeting at the ballot box is not an ideal practice, fiscally speaking. The smarter system is to have thoughtful lawmakers and state officials who balance needs with resources and set their budget priorities in context.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, to say the least. And grossly underfunded art and music classes are too important to the education of the state’s 6 million K-12 public school students to be overridden by a theoretical argument about the ballot box budget.

I just don’t see holding the future of California’s school children hostage to an abstract principle about responsible budget practices.

It’s not like the budget process is pure, rational and sacrosanct anyway. It’s a messy and sometimes ugly process of lobbying by interest groups and political horse-trading.

Also, I don’t think we’ll hear about California schools being overfunded anytime soon. I don’t think a billion dollars will break the bank either.

The bottom line is that in recent years California has found it sufficient to fund public schools at a level of roughly $17,000 per student, compared to the $30,000 per student spent in similarly expensive New York. This has left many public schools struggling and students with fewer opportunities.

Proposition 28 would help change that, while providing California children with a critical component of the education they need and deserve.

Nicholas Goldberg is an associate editor and Opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times. ©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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