By Sarah Blunt and Christopher Escamilla | Special to the OBSERVER
Voters across Sacramento and California soon will decide on a proposition that supporters say would ensure low-income students receive the arts and music education that is essential to young learners.
Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) is made up of more than 40,000 students with 51% of those students considered economically disadvantaged. Jamee Villa, District 4 trustee for the district, said Proposition 28 would benefit students.
“It levels the playing field,” Villa said. “Everybody will have access to these programs. It’s a total equity lens-driven program.” Proposition 28 would require additional funding from the state. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), “the amount required each year would equal 1% of the constitutionally required state and local funding that public schools received the year before.” Arts and music education currently is funded by state and local budget decisions, and is often cut first when there is a budget deficit.
Proposition supporters said most K-12 students aren’t receiving enough opportunities to be a part of an arts program. Austin Beutner, former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he has seen a lack of arts and music in public schools and thinks that students deserve more.
“Arts and music are an essential part of a good education,” Beutner said. “Unfortunately in public schools in California, barely 1 in 5 schools have a full-time arts and music program. You gotta let that one sink in, because that’s the fundamental reason why this is necessary. Only 1 in 5 kids get a chance to participate when it should be 5 in 5.”
Sacramento resident Kay Dunson, a dancer and mentor for children, said that participating in arts can help shape children. “We are our most impressionable during our grade school years,” Dunson said. “Our experiences during those years influence our perspective, habits and goals as we develop into adulthood. For me, art has been a teacher, supplying me with the tools to get to know myself. It is absolutely necessary that the art programs in schools get prioritized, so that we can set the next generation up with the tools for success.”
Prop 28 states that 80% of funds would be used to hire new staff for arts and music programs while the remaining 20% would be used for materials and supplies such as instruments or canvases. For full transparency, schools will be required to report to the California Department of Education on how their funds were spent and if they were used in arts education.
Lyndsay Burch, artistic director at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento, said she hopes the proposition provides more opportunities for students as well as art educators. “I hope it allows them not only to invest in arts, arts educators as well as giving more permanent positions or more stable positions to arts educators so that they can really have a full-time place in the schools,” she said. Burch added that she hopes the proposition can “put some funding towards not just the arts in the schools, but also field trips.”
There is no organized opposition to Proposition 28, though some have spoken against it.
Lance Christensen, candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, said giving more money to art and music programs could take away funding from other important things.
“What you take from one hand you give to another,” he said. ”The question is, are you taking away local control from the school districts? Are you mandating something that they can’t accomplish or fulfill? Are you creating secondary or tertiary effects financially for those school districts?”
Christensen said Proposition 28 would make California’s complex education funding even more complicated, while tying the hands of government leaders to redistribute funds when needed. “It’s not a really easy thing to explain but basically what happens is property taxes in the local government or the county go in to fill the education buckets first for the different school districts.” Christensen said.
Villa, the SCUSD board member, doesn’t see that happening, noting that the state has a large budget surplus. “One thing I think it’s important for folks to understand, it’s not raising taxes,” she said. “This is going to come directly from funds that we already have in the state.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was prepared by Sac State data-journalism students under the direction of Professor Phillip Reese.
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.