California schools, including in Santa Cruz, set for ‘windfall’ in arts funding starting in 2023-24

Students participate in an art project at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.
(Via Santa Cruz County Office of Education)

After California voters approved Proposition 28 in November, public schools will start receiving about $1 billion for arts and music education each year. Lookout spoke with Santa Cruz County administrator Audrey Sirota about how that will look locally.

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A Q&A with educator Audrey Sirota

Starting next year, California public schools will have about $1 billion annually to spend on arts education — a historic amount proponents say will ensure students in every classroom are exposed to different mediums of art, from dance and graphic design to photography and theater.

Arts instructors, administrators and education officials like Santa Cruz County Office of Education Arts Coordinator Audrey Sirota are ecstatic schools will now receive consistent funding to ensure students have the ability to express themselves artistically.

“We were all doing the happy dance,” she said after California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 28 — the Arts and Music in Schools measure — in November.

Sirota says arts programs are often the first to go when schools are forced to make budget cuts. This has led to the current state of arts instruction: Just one in five California public schools has a full-time arts or music program, according to supporters of the measure.

Proposition 28 requires that the state allocate 1% of the required state and local funding that public schools received the year before to arts education. Because the money will come from the state’s general fund, the measure doesn’t raise taxes and it protects existing education funding. Schools with higher proportions of economically disadvantaged students will receive more funding.

School principals will be required to write up plans on how they spend the funding — which Proposition 28 requires primarily be spent to hire staff (80% of the funds) and the remaining to be used on training, supplies and partnerships with arts programs.

State law requires visual and performing arts instruction for students in grades 1-6 and also requires that schools offer arts courses as electives for grades 7 and 8. In secondary schools, state law requires students to complete either one year of visual or performing arts, a foreign language or career technical education.

Each district could create variations on these requirements for graduation depending on the school board. In addition, many schools offer arts instruction through before- and after-school and summer programs.

Lookout talked to Sirota about the expected impact.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Lookout: How much will Santa Cruz County public schools get and how is it allocated?

Sirota: What the estimates are showing is that each [local school board] will receive $113.45 per student based on the enrollment metric right now, and [an additional] $84.15 per student based on the low-income metric, which is our Title I funding. Keep in mind that these are estimates from our latest data available, and they could change depending on the number of students that are enrolled in our schools, and the number of students who qualify for Title I funding for the 2023-24 school year. Given these numbers, if we have a small school with approximately 110 students, the school would receive close to $15,000, whereas a larger school with 550 students, for example, would receive close to $100,000.

Lookout: What can the money be spent on?

Sirota: So 80% goes to hiring personnel, 1% for administrative costs, and the remaining 19% can be used for supplies, materials, training and arts educational partnership programs. For schools with more than 500 students, at least 80% of the funds have to be used to employ arts education instructors. But if they have under 500 students there’s going to be more flexibility. But the [California Department of Education] hasn’t released the guidance yet about what that’s going to look like. But I can imagine that it could look like if you want to start a music program and you don’t have your instruments yet, you might be able to apply for a waiver [in order to spend less on instructors and more on supplies].

Lookout: Why is this important?

Sirota: Research over the past 30 years shows a pattern of findings. Students who do engage in the arts have higher attendance rates, they perform better academically, both on standardized tests and on ongoing school assessments in reading, writing and mathematics. They demonstrate a higher proficiency and understanding complex emotional issues, social relationships, they’ve learned healthy self-management strategies and decision-making strategies. They show higher levels of self-confidence and positive self-perception. They also demonstrate higher levels of civic engagement.


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