By Srishti Prabha | CapRadio | Special to the OBSERVER
A 2019 report by Create CA found that 89% of public schools in California were not meeting the state standards for arts education. Lack of accountability compounded by the incremental loss of funding has contributed to many school districts having a fragmented landscape where funding for the arts is coming from obscure sources. In Sacramento, the hardest hit regions were those with Black and brown students.
Spanglish chatter is followed by giggles as students walk from their first-grade classroom to the art room at Glenwood Elementary School in North Sacramento.
At the back of the line, 7–year-old Salvador Vasquez exclaims, “I’m so excited!”
Once a week, the first graders at Glenwood Elementary get access to arts education and they are buzzing with energy.
“I like to learn new things in art,” says student Cardiair Potts.
His friend Lizandro Zepeda thinks art class is unlike his normal class where they focus on math and reading: “It makes me happy because, with the projects, we bring them in our house, we can show them to our family.”
Stevie Wonder songs set the mood in the classroom, as the first-graders gossip, color and cut butterfly shapes.
Andrea Rodriguez, the visual arts enrichment teacher, develops and runs all the arts programming for Glenwood Elementary. She sees 450 students for 40 minutes a week.
The Robla Unified School District, a majority Black and brown district with 84% of its families lower-income, provides visual arts education for every student once a week. Surprisingly, this is more than what many other students in Sacramento County receive. A year-long program committed to any type of arts education at the elementary school level is not standard practice for all districts, and Robla School District is ahead of the curve, even without a theater, music and dance curriculum.
California’s state-mandated arts framework requires that students from grades first through sixth receive instruction in dance, music, theater and visual arts in each grade level. And from grades seventh to 12th, to have the choice from these four buckets of arts education.
Yet, a 2019 report by Create CA in partnership with SRI International— the most recent available — found that 89% of public schools in California were not meeting the state standards for arts education. Lack of accountability compounded by the incremental loss of funding has contributed to many school districts having a fragmented landscape where funding for the arts is coming from obscure sources. In Sacramento, the hardest hit regions were those with Black and Brown students.
The passing of Proposition 28 in 2022 marked a historic investment of money for arts education. That, along with an arts block grant issued the same year, were to be the panacea for three decades of non-existent arts education. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget will decrease funding for the arts, and the limitations of this funding prompt more questions than solutions.
“Scarcity mindset … making do with whatever you had”
Allison Cagley, executive director of Friends of Sacramento Arts, said in Sacramento County most of the losses in arts education are seen in the years before high school, impacting young students of color and students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Accounting for students from underserved regions requires intentionality, said Cagley, and incorporating arts education into the school day.
“It can’t be an after-school program only because that builds inequitable access. Art needs to be consistent in terms of hands-on experience, as well as exposure,” said Cagley, who facilitates arts programming in local schools. “And [we need] to build out a diverse body of art forms and [teaching] artists that accurately reflect the demographics of schools.”
The benefits of arts education for youth — better social and emotional health, improved test scores, less truancy — are more prevalent in the public education space than before.
“I know it helps with attendance because [when] they know they have art that day, they tend to come to school because they look forward to your class,” Rodriguez said of her students.
Rodriguez began her journey as a visual arts teacher at Natomas High School in 2007 before becoming the sole arts educator at Glenwood Elementary.
“When I started, we had lab fees, so kids used to have to pay. It’s now illegal, but they had to pay $15 a semester,” said Rodriguez. “My entire budget came out of kids paying their lab fees. And I felt horrible because some kids were like, ‘I don’t have the money.’ I used to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars as a brand-new teacher in my 20s, trying to make my curriculum and classroom work.”
Once the state outlawed fees for arts education in 2012, Rodriguez’s budget was around $12 per pupil. Ten years later, she is spending about $15 per student in a well-resourced district. However, if the amount spent in 2012, when arts education was not prioritized, was adjusted for inflation, schools should be spending $16 per student to provide the same services.
“Since I adopted a new classroom and somebody else’s idea of curriculum, my budget eats into my new ideas,” Rodriguez said. “I try to use a lot of what I have and try to be very creative with what I can do here.”
Rodriguez is not alone in her struggle to conform curriculum to available funds. The malleability of the budget is entirely dependent on the priorities of the principal, and the championing from teachers and parents. In some cases, the departure or retirement of an arts teacher or supportive principal may lead to the ending of an arts program.
CLARA, a nonprofit organization based in Midtown Sacramento, works with Sacramento County’s schools to deliver dance classes on-site. Executive Director Megan Wygant said their programming has been subject to the changing whims of the administration and teachers this past year.
“We had a contract to start at a new school or to come back, and we walked in on the first day and were like, ‘You’re not the principal we used to work with,’” said Wygant on not having the buy-in on the programs from new school officials. “Principals were saying, ‘I don’t know if I want my teachers losing an hour of classroom time every week.’”
Programming run by CLARA can be funded by the districts or PTAs, but this varies from school to school and district to district.
Sources of funding for arts education in the county are haphazardly drawn from different pools of money, and the transparency around the amount, the rationale, and the outcomes are disparate and opaque.
When Rodriguez wanted to do a 3D cultural food project, appealing to the diverse classrooms she educates, she asked her principal, “Is there money?” He told her “Yeah, whatever you need. We’ll get it out of a different budget.”
Rodriguez said was not entirely sure how the arts education budget in her district was determined, but knew she was receiving $7,000 a year.
Before Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978, property taxes funded California’s public schools, and there was much more discretionary local control of the education budget. The Public Policy Institute suggests that “between 1970 and 1997, spending per pupil in California fell more than 15 percent relative to spending in the rest of the country” because of Prop 13. Though the state tried to match the lost funding, slashes in education were inevitable, and arts education took the brunt of the cuts.
Prop 13 diminished access to arts education, said Cagley: “The arts were obliterated from public education, and now in California, 1 in 5 school children receive any arts education, despite the fact that it is regulated in the California Department of Education framework.”
In 2010, the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, the state’s method of allocating funds to districts based on economic disparity, once again shifted the landscape of public education — and hurt arts education.
“The visual and performing arts in California have been challenged in the local education funding formula,” said Tom DeCaigny, executive director of Create CA. “So, they’ve not risen to the priority of local districts or the State Department of Education.”
The LCFF model accommodates schools in high- and low-income neighborhoods with more resources, but the void is exasperated for schools in neighborhoods at the cusp of low-income, Cagley said: “What’s interesting about the funding of arts education is that sometimes Title I schools, because they are Title I, get more money than schools that are on the border of Title I.”
Title I schools are defined by the economic need of their student population. And the LCFF model accounts for the needs of high-poverty areas with Title 1 schools in the County.
But the design of this model is a myth, as observed at Glenwood Elementary — a Title 1 school — which is still not meeting the state standards or the comprehensive needs of the students.
Mollie Morrison, the visual and performing arts coordinator at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood, said she finds that when students come to her arts classroom, they are unprepared. McClatchy High, as a Title I school, receives extra funds and has a robust theater, visual arts and dance program.
But to get into this program, students have to submit a portfolio to Morrison, which can be an obstacle for the 66% of students at the high school coming from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and who likely did not get adequate arts education at the elementary level.
“There is no art right now in elementary schools because it’s not required. It just depends on what school you go to, whether or not you touch the arts,” Morrison said. “You have to think about how intimidated [students are] by the time they finally hit one of these classrooms. It’s very hard to win them back over at 16 or 17.”
“It’s exciting … But we don’t even generate that many teachers”
In the last two years, two potentially big advancements have happened in the area of arts funding for California students.
Assembly Bill 185, a novel discretionary arts, music and instructional material block grant of $3.6 billion, was included in Newsom’s 2022-2023 budget, and is to be used by 2025-2026 fiscal year. The funding is for materials, curriculum development, professional development and COVID aid.
Then in November 2022, Prop 28 passed with an approval rating of 65%. The measure would dedicate $990 million to arts and music education in the state — the most money ever allocated. But the lofty goals of both the block grant and Prop 28 aren’t necessarily panning out as promised.
Many schools had distributed their portion of the block grant money over the next few years, but then the grant funding was cut to $1.8 billion in Newsom’s proposed 2023-2024 budget, under the premise that this money would be offset by Prop 28 funding.
Prop 28 was also subject to cuts and reduced to $940 million, with a one-time fund of $100 million to cover the deficit. The Legislative Analyst’s Office confirms that the one-time amount will not cover the deficit of arts funds assumed by the Newsom’s slashes.
“Prop 28 funding should supplement current arts funding, not supplant,” Cagley said. That’s because these two pools of money from the block grant and the proposition serve different purposes. The block grant is to be used for materials, supplies and programs. Prop 28, on the other hand, is intended primarily to be used to hire more arts teachers.
Letty Kraus, director of the California County Superintendents Arts Initiative, and Cagley both expressed concern over how the Prop 28 funds are to be used: 80% on credentialed teachers and pipelines and 20 % on teaching artists, partnerships with local arts organizations and materials. “The conundrum is there is a huge hole of qualified arts teachers,” Cagely said.
The Sacramento County Office of Education’s Assistant Superintendent Jackie White estimates the need for over 200 art teachers in the county, and a total 15,000 arts teachers in the state. “We don’t even generate that many teachers,” said White.
But that’s not the only problem, said Kraus. Working with Sacramento County’s superintendents, she said that the language of the block grant is ambiguous, which could lead to funding not necessarily being used for arts or music.
Measuring arts education progress is tenuous, considering the California Department of Education has not released current arts education data since 2019 to track improvements, or the lack thereof, in the state. (CDE did not return requests for comment.)
“Part of what has to happen is that the California Department of Education has to come through with guidance,” Kraus said. “But they’re not funded with staff for Prop 28.”
Still, Kraus, Cagley and White are cautiously optimistic about Prop 28, but said that the implementation requires dedicated attention to equitable and culturally competent curriculum.
“This Prop 28 money, it’s really exciting,” White said. “I’m glad it got voted in. We need money for arts education.”
Rodriguez witnesses the direct impact culturally-reflective arts education has had on her former students. Kimberly Jackson, now in her early 20s, is a working professional, but makes time once a week to volunteer in Rodriquez’s classroom.
“Dr. Dre has been in my life for almost a decade,” she said about Rodriguez. “As an educator, she made me more open to [art] and really challenged me because she’s always elevating and incorporating the identities of her students.”
Jackson said she wants elementary school students to see reflective arts education and is confident that Rodriguez’s teachings bolster a future where students of all backgrounds are empowered. Having students like Jackson has been a driver in Rodriguez’s pursuits to provide comprehensive visual arts programming, she said.
“It’s that sense of community that I’m so in love with,” expressed Rodriguez. “And seeing kids love themselves because of what they are able to achieve is so priceless. And not every student gets that luxury — that’s what has kept me in education.”
Srishti Prabha is a Report For America corps member and Education Reporter in collaboration with The Sacramento Observer and CapRadio. Their focus is on K-12 education in Black communities.