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Proposition 28 guarantees minimum funding for arts programs.

The Art and Music K-12 Funding Initiative is a new state statute on the November 2022 ballot. It requires all K-12 public schools to provide art education programs with an annual minimum budget of 1% of the total state and local revenues that the school receives. Additionally, the proposition will require schools with 500 or more students to allocate the fund to economically disadvantaged students. 80% of the fund would be used to employ teachers, while the other 20% should be used for training and buying supplies for the program.

Illustrated by Lily Jiang

By Daniel Gong, Faith Qiao, Catherine Qin, Katelyn Shen


"In tough times, when you cut back to the essentials, the first things that go are the arts programs." — Anonymous Principal

Since 2008, more than 80% of schools nationwide have experienced cuts to their budgets. A whopping 73% of California public high schools fail "to provide a high-quality course of study across arts disciplines."

Proposition 28 ( Art and Music K-12 Funding Initiative) is the new elected solution. It was first proposed on November 1, 2021, by political and election lawyer, Thomas W. Hiltachk. As an “official proponent,” Hiltachk filed this bill on behalf of Austin Beutner, who is a former Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Hiltachk, has a background specializing in “the laws governing the initiative process in California (including writing ballot measures, qualifying measures for the ballot, and reporting campaign finances)." Sure enough, the Attorney General of California approved Proposition 28 on January 5, 2022, allowing the signature drive to begin.

In less than five months, the campaign announced that it had been verified (even exceeding the qualifying amount of 623,212), successfully making it to the ballot for the November 2022 election.

Proposition 28 promises three core things. One, setting minimum funding levels for arts programs. Two, distributing these funds so that high-need communities receive more money. Three, set guidelines as to how this money needs to be used.

There are three policies that largely govern California public school funding: proposition 13, proposition 98, and the local control funding formula. Prior to 1978, California schools were largely funded in proposition to local property taxes. Naturally, this meant affluent communities had high-quality education leading to rampant educational inequity. This is what lead to a California court case (Serrano v Priest) in 1971 which established revenue limits on school districts.

This all happened under the backdrop of continuous civil liberty advancements—a time when women and people of color were transitioning into other career pathways and demanding higher wages—prompting school districts to levy local taxes that could not be redistributed to other schools. Meanwhile, the U.S. was experiencing the OPEC crisis: a period of high-inflation induced by increasing oil price. Taxation was more of a criminal than ever in this period. Therefore, in 1978, proposition 13 was passed under governor Jerry Brown—limiting property tax to 1% of its estimated property value.

With the Serrano v. Priest case and Proposition 13, California public education was now in the hands of the state with absolutely no incentive nor the continuous funds to care about California schools. School infrastructure couldn't keep up with increasing pupil counts while class sizes had bloated to conserve cash.

The angry California constituency demanded a return to better education which lead to the passage of proposition 98 in 1988. This set a minimum funding level for K-12 education equating to around 40% (41% in 2022) of the state's general fund composed of income, property, and sales taxes.

The Local Control Funding Formula, passed in 2013, is what pumps money into your schools today. Simply put, there are three funds—the base, supplemental, and concentration grant. The base grant is a set dollar value per average daily attendance that is differentiated by grade level. The supplemental grant (equal to 20% of the base grant) is given to a school for each high-need student they have. The concentration grant is given to schools that where more than 55% students are high-need.

To put all this in context, California’s general fund in 2022 is $227 billion. This would mean $93.07 billion is being invested into public K-12 schools. This money is distributed by the Local Control Funding Formula. Proposition 28 (which takes 1% of the total state and local revenues that the school district receives under proposition 98) would mean that $930 million will be invested into arts education across California.

"[Provide] even more funding for schools that serve low-income communities who lack arts and music education" — Initiative Measure

If the Local Control Funding Formula already prioritizes high-need students, then isn't the second clause of Proposition 28 redundant?

False, it isn't. In addition to the 1% of the proposition 98 fund, districts will also receive money from another appropriation fund that is calculated by the Director of Finance. Each local education agency will split a pie of 70% of this additional fund. The remaining 30% will be allocated based on a school's share of economically disadvantaged students.

To be considered an ED student, the state determines it based on the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal program, which requires the family income to be at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, in 1992–93, approximately 40 percent of public school children were ED. In comparison, in 2006–07, approximately 50 percent of public school children (about 3 million) were ED. With more funding coming towards their schools’ pockets, it could improve the overall educational curriculum in high-poverty student schools.

In the Fremont Unified School District, which includes 43 schools and 35,187 students, about “12.7% of students are economically disadvantaged” (U.S. News). An example of a high ED school is the Los Angeles Unified School District. Monica Garcia, a board member, says, “In LAUSD, the second largest school district in the country, 80% of our students are low-income. We know that an increase in access to arts within our schools will open the door of opportunity for students to have careers in media and technology”.

"Require[s] schools with 500 or more students to use 80% of the funding for employing teachers and 20% to training and materials."— Ballotpedia

The average salary for a California public school teacher is $84,531 in the 2019-2020 school year. With the assumption that all California school's have more than 500 students and using the 2022's general fund as the dollar amount, of the $930 million dollars that will be 8,801 teachers getting paid and $186 million used to fund music, fine arts, and performing arts programs. An average high school marching band costs an average of $7,110.77 annually. There are 1,314 high schools in California equating to $ 9.34 million to make sure that all high schools can run an appropriately funded marching band.

Currently, the art department relies on donations from families for funding,”— Ms. Hobbs, Mission San Jose Arts Teacher

Let’s take a more wholestic look through the lens of one of California’s worst-performing school districts—Willits Unified School District. According to the Willits Unified School District (WUSD)’s website reportings, their total amount from Proposition 98 was about 15 million dollars. Given the proposed minimum percentage, that means at least $150,000 would be taken out of that funding to fund Proposition 28; 80% of the $150,000 will be dedicated to employing new art teachers, and 20% of the $150,000 will be used to training and buying art supplies.

But given Willits is a pretty impoverished area, with the median household income being $33,000 (compared to California’s $76,000), and 72% of students getting free or reduced price lunches, so the district will receive more than the $150,000 back from Prop 28. Given that the district has 3 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 1 high school, that means the money will be split across the six schools in Willits.

While this proposition does not specify how each district will split the money, we can still look at how it can make an impact. We can assume that Willits gets around $300,000 from the Proposition, which is not a high estimate given the district’s financial situation. If in WUSD, we assume that the money is split evenly among all schools, which it likely would not be, it will come out to around $50,000 per school.

In elementary schools, most do not offer an art program or even have an art teacher. The $50,000 could be used to hire another teacher, which could help start art education at a younger age. In middle schools and high schools, it could be invested into purchasing new supplies or hiring new teachers, with supplies often running hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Currently, California’s K-12 public education is ranked between #40-44 out of the 50 states, depending on the source. This is a steep fall from only a decade ago, where California was around #28-31. A large part of this can be attributed to California’s lack of spending compared to other states. Compared to New Jersey (the #1 ranked state in education), California spends far less money per student: In 2018, California spent $13,200 per student while New Jersey spent $23,000 per student. Heck, California spends less on education per student than the average student across the entire US!

So, why is this the case? Well its because of Proposition 13, a proposition which drastically cut property taxes to 1%, with growth being capped at 2% per year or the inflation rate (whichever was lower). One of the biggest consequences of this bill was education funding. Up until the passing of the proposition, property taxes made up a large part of the funding for public schools, meaning after the proposition was passed, public school funding dropped by 33% overnight.

To compensate for this, California has passed certain measures since then. Since 1978, California’s personal income tax and general sales taxes have increased dramatically, with personal income tax increasing over 200%. Income tax in particular, has become a far larger part of the state’s general fund—which is the state’s funding for pretty much everything.

So, compared to other states in the US, in California, property tax makes up far less of the public education budget, at only 21% in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. In comparison, in New Jersey, 53% of the 2022 public education system budget came from property taxes, and the US average was at 36% in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. However, Proposition 13 is still extremely popular throughout the state, with politicians often facing backlash for trying to change the way it works.

So, even though spending is definitely one of the biggest issues regarding the education system, it is difficult to change that at the moment. However, there are other factors that can be improved that would improve California’s public education rankings. While many sources do not make their criteria for education system ranking information public, WalletHub, which ranks California at #41, has public information on this. Wallethub lists all 32 factors that they took into account for their rankings, as well as included a panel of experts on their site for questions regarding this information. Of the 32 factors, some of the ones weighed most heavily that Proposition 28 might help with are pupil-teacher ratios, percentage of injured/threatened students, and bullying incident rate.

The biggest way Proposition 28 will help is the second part of the proposition, where additional funding from the proposition will be distributed to school agencies with economically disadvantaged students. This additional funding, with 80% going into employing teachers and 20% going to training and materials if there are over 500 students, will heavily help with California’s teacher-to-pupil ratio, even if they are going into art programs and art teachers. In 2018, California averaged 1 teacher per 22 students, which is worse than the US average of 16 teachers per student.

According to a study by Katie Diaz from Mills College-Oakland on the effects of teacher-student ratio in high schools, it’s found that a student teacher ratio of 19 and below results in higher positive teachers and students at the school, and any ratio above 19:1 results in more discouraged students than positive ones. As mentioned above, in school districts with large amounts of economically disadvantaged students, this funding may be enough to hire at least one teacher per school, which will definitely help. Furthermore, the proposition may also lead to other increases in the safety department, as more teachers may result in a safer, more academically-focused school environment. In a study done by Nicola Connor-Burrows, they found that more teacher support can lead to less depression amongst students, especially among students with low parent support.

In addition, while the heavy investment into art may seem unhelpful, there is a striking correlation between states with art programs and states with good education. For instance, in 2019, over 81% of students in New Jersey participated in art programs, opposed to California’s abysmal 39%. In addition, other states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, which are ranked #8 and #20 in education respectively, have over 70% of students participating in art programs. While there is no definitive evidence that more art programs and teachers will help the education system, this correlation is important to keep in mind when considering the proposition in November.

Before voting for any bill, it is always a good idea to look at supporters of the bill along with opposition for the bill, as that can offer new perspectives with valid praise and criticism.

Austin Beutner is one of the main endorsers of the Vote Arts and Mind campaign, a campaign supporting the initiative. Besides Beutner himself, many big Hollywood executives, entertainers, and unions, including Katy Perry, John Lithgow, Issa Rae, SAG-AFTRA, Actors Equity, and the California branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (Variety) are supporting both Beutner and the initiative. Beutner estimates that the ballot initiative will likely increase the spending by $800 million to $1 billion each fiscal year and potentially “increase the number of music and arts teachers in California classrooms by 50%” (Variety).

One of the reasons why so many celebrities and boards in the entertainment industry support this initiative is because of one of the goals of the initiative: to diversify the entertainment industry, as it “remains disproportionately white.” Actress Issae Rae commented on the ballot, saying, “It will especially benefit students from communities of color, who often experience a lack of access and equity in access to arts and music education."

It’s not just big time actors who support this bill either; Ms. Hobbs also had positive words on this proposition. When talking with her, she noted that with our current system of donation based-funding, “the amount of funding we have per year can fluctuate quite a bit. Families may not think it’s their duty to pay for art materials at a public school; or donating for materials may simply not be in their budget. Ultimately, my thought is that funding should not be a burden of the families of our school and should come from the government instead.”

“I think every company in this state has dedicated itself to diversifying its employees,” said Chris Meledandri, founder of animation studio Illumination, and a supporter of the initiative. “And it’s really hard to diversify your employees in a truly meaningful way if we haven’t started focusing on children at a younger age to develop these interests and talents in them” (Variety).

While there have not been any specific people opposing and targeting Proposition 28, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board did add a comment, saying, “This is a bad idea. Right now, state coffers are flush. But when revenue becomes tight in the future, the governor and Legislature need as much flexibility in the budget as possible to make sure that critical needs are funded. What happens if the student population plummets in future years while the number of disabled elderly people grows?”

This is true, as in May, 2022, Newsom noted that California’s budget this year has an excess of a mindblowing $97.5 billion. This means more money for school funding, meaning an extra amount could be taken out for bills such as Proposition 28 while schools still get the money they need. Ultimately, this proposition is always only 0.6% of schools’ total budget, meaning that even in the future, if there is not enough money for school funding, this 0.6% spent on art programs across the state will not likely be the dealbreaker.

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Amy Zhao
Amy Zhao
Aug 29, 2022


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