Artistic and musical education is essential. Vote yes on Proposition 28

Generally, California voters agree that even in difficult times, spending on education should remain a top priority. In 1998, voters ratified Proposition 98, which stated that at a minimum, about 40% of California’s budget should go to schools and community colleges each year.

Proposal 28 would build on this mandate.

The measure would ensure that a sum totaling 1% of Prop. 98 of California is reserved for arts and music programs. The Office of the Nonpartisan Legislative Analyst estimates that could mean $1 billion a year, 80% of which would go to hiring arts and music teachers. The measure would not raise taxes, and schools with a high percentage of students from low-income households would receive a higher percentage of funding than wealthy schools. Only 1% of Prop money. 28 could go to administrative costs.

California law already requires that all middle and high school students receive varying degrees of visual and performing arts education. But even now, in the midst of a huge budget surplus, an overwhelming majority of California public school students are not receiving a sustained arts education. According to proponents of Prop. 28, only 1 in 5 schools have a full-time arts or music program. In a state where 60% of students are considered economically disadvantaged, that means many will likely never have access to creative education.

This is unacceptable. Studies consistently show that arts education isn’t an indulgence, it’s essential.

An 11-year study in Boston found that arts education is a key bulwark against chronic absenteeism. Students and parents were more engaged in schools where art and music were part of the curriculum, which led to better test scores in some cases.

With the widespread learning loss and flight of students from the public school system resulting from the pandemic, any effort that can bring children back to school and regain the trust of parents is a worthy endeavour. Moreover, in California’s vibrant 21st century economy – where lucrative careers in graphic arts, film and television, and technology are accessible to those with creative skills – denying students a solid artistic education can have the practical effect of preemptively cutting off access to some of the best jobs our state has to offer.

There is no official opposition to Proposition 28. However, there is a good government argument to be made against the measure, although few do.

“Set asides” like Proposition 28 remove flexibility from the budget process. In times of crisis, as California currently enjoys, it’s easy to spend money. But when the budget belt needs to be tightened, tying the hands of civil servants makes it difficult to balance priorities.

Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, Prop. 28, admitted in an endorsement interview that the measure was a “brutal instrument.” But he noted that it contains checks and balances against economic disaster; it can be amended by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. This means that if lawmakers want to take money away from children, they will have to come before voters and do so openly, not behind the scenes of opaque budget negotiations.

Education spending is not capricious. Neither did the arts. California’s children need and deserve stronger engagement on both fronts from voters. It means saying “yes” to Prop. 28 on November 8.

This comment is from The Chronicle editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

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