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Yes on California Proposition 28: Measure would boost arts, music education funding

Proposition 28 on the Nov. 8 ballot would require California to set aside an annual source of funding from its general fund for K-12 public schools for arts and music education equal to at least 1 percent of the total state and local revenues that local education agencies receive under Proposition 98. Below, two advocates argue for it. There is no organized opposition and efforts to have someone argue against the measure were unsuccessful. Please email laura.castaneda@sduniontribune.com if you would like to do so in about 750 words.

Sperling is director of visual and performing arts at the San Diego Unified School District. He is immediate past president of the California Music Educators Association, and lives in San Diego. Christensen is the band director at Mira Mesa High School. She is president of the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association and lives in San Diego.

California has a historic opportunity to invest in its students like never before.

As music educators with a combined 62 years of experience, we understand the advantages of an arts education. Arts and music education increase a child’s motor skills and spatial reasoning, improve performance and confidence, and benefit mental health. We’ve seen the impact firsthand. That is why we urge California voters to vote yes on Proposition 28 in November, which will increase funding for arts and music education programs in California public schools without raising taxes.

The reality is that even in California, the creative capital of the world, arts and music education is out of reach for millions of public school students. Only 1 in 5 public schools in California have a full-time arts or music program. Our kids deserve better. The impacts of underfunded arts and music education in our public schools fall hardest on low-income communities — Black and Latino students comprise 61 percent of total pre-K through 12th-grade enrollment and 77 percent of enrollment in low-income communities.

But with Proposition 28, we can give the nearly 5.9 million students in public schools access to the arts and music education they so desperately need. Proposition 28 would dedicate more than $900 million to arts and music for students in every pre-K through 12th-grade public school in California without raising taxes.

The measure allocates existing revenue from the state general fund, which currently has a surplus of nearly $100 billion. The amount dedicated to arts and music education under the measure is equal to roughly 1 percent of existing education funding — and is in addition to that funding, not counted towards it. The measure also requires 100 percent of the additional school funds to be used for arts and music education, with at least 80 percent on hiring teachers and aides. The funding can also help with staff training, supplies, materials and educational partnerships with arts and community organizations.

The measure includes strict accountability measures to ensure the funds directly benefit students. It prohibits schools from diverting existing funds away from arts and music education; the measure requires that the new funding be used by school districts to increase funding of arts education programs.

And when it comes to San Diego, this funding would be a game-changer. As the state’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified School District serves more than 95,000 students across diverse racial and socioeconomic spheres.

While the district has worked to provide arts and music education to our students, funding is a clear limitation — it’s well known that education funding in California school districts pales in comparison to many other states. That means arts and music education often is cut. In fact, 88 percent of California schools fail to provide the arts and music education required by law.

That means, as arts and music educators, our hands are tied.

Studies show arts education is linked to higher performance and success, and we’ve seen it in our own students. Students in the band program at Mira Mesa High School, a Title I school receiving federal funds due to a high concentration of low-income students, have a 99 percent graduation rate. The band program encourages students to attend school regularly, and studies show that low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than five times less likely to drop out of school, three times more likely to get a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent more likely to pursue a professional career.

We’ve seen firsthand the impact of arts education on our current and former students’ success in school and life. Our alumni attribute their successful careers to the discipline, dedication, joy of learning music and ability to contribute to a group that they experienced in band. This is what teaching arts and music is all about!

This past New Year’s Day, the Mira Mesa High School band students marched in the Rose Parade. Many from the program had never traveled to Pasadena. Performing in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators while representing San Diego was an experience of a lifetime. There was a sense of meaningful pride as people cheered on students from the San Diego Unified School District.

This past spring, students throughout the district performed at the SDUSD High School Band and Orchestra Festival at the new The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, thanks to our partnership with the San Diego Symphony.

These opportunities have transformed our students’ lives in ways we can’t measure. Our young San Diegans are motivated to be better, more engaged citizens through the arts and music. Unfortunately, we struggle each year to be able to provide these opportunities for our students.

We’ve often said to be an arts and music teacher is to be an advocate. We are constantly fighting for our students — and now we ask you to join us. Arts and music are two of the great and underestimated equalizers that we truly believe every student deserves to experience.

Music and the arts aren’t just for a select few — and voting yes on Proposition 28 will ensure all San Diego students have the access they need and deserve.


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