Author Archive

Student Arts Advocates: “You Need to Be an Arts Advocate”

October 7, 2010

A few months ago, the Alliance was contacted by Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA), based at Columbia University. We’re delighted to share their terrific advocacy video, “You Need to Be an Arts Advocate” as well as some lessons learned from outgoing SAA president Jonathan Lewis.

Can you share a defining moment in your advocacy work?
For several years, I’d participated in the Arts Advocacy Day in Albany. A group of students headed up there to show our support each year, but usually ended up on the sidelines. This past year, we came out to support our friend, Richard Kessler, the Executive Director of the Center for Arts Education who was to give testimony before the Joint Meeting of the Committees on the Arts Hearing at the New York State Senate for Arts Day 2010. However, there was a snowstorm, and Mr. Kessler was unable to be there, so he called and asked me to take his place.

After several in-transit cell phone calls with Kessler and a quick re-drafting of his remarks, I found myself in front of a panel of legislators, providing testimony alongside many directors and presidents of arts non-profits and arts service organizations. My testimony went by in a rush (captured on tape – you can see me in the video) but the experience stayed with me. It really brought home that not only was I (or any other student) capable of stepping into this role, but it is also opportunities like these that truly make things happen. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and wait to be asked, but I realize now that it is also important for students to take that extra initiative and put themselves out there. Because you never know – the day might come when we’re suddenly needed, and we have to be ready rise to those occasions.

Have you passed that message on to other student advocates?
We definitely have at the local level. We started a gathering of other college students in New York City who are advocating for arts education. It’s very informal; we meet at a bar. It’s been a great way to build relationships with other advocates, to learn what other people are up to.

There are also Student Advocates for the Arts chapters and other student arts advocacy groups across the country who are doing great work. At the moment we only tend to meet each other on Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. So part of our planning process for new projects is to reach out to more students and work together on a national level.

This past year, we were also contacted by high school students in Florida who wanted to take some action to prevent cuts to arts programs at their school. It was great to be able to share some of what we’d learned through trial and error with them.

What advice did you give them?
Well, they were planning to stage a rally to protest, and we suggested that before they did, they should set up meetings and talk to administrators. Protests can be extremely effective, but what we’ve learned is that sometimes when you sit down and talk to people face-to-face, you may find that you have some allies. They may share some of your concerns, or need more information about your cause. They appreciate the opportunity to work on the problem before it gets to the protest stage, and sometimes, they may even welcome solutions or support from advocates – all you have to do is ask.

It’s really useful to forge those relationships with decision makers, and in the end, you may have more leverage that way. Rallies are powerful, but they probably shouldn’t be the first option you reach for.

About Student Advocates for the Arts:
Student Advocates for the Arts was founded by students in the Arts Administration program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Today they have chapters across the country. This video is part of SAA’s most recent campaign to reach new audiences of students and young voters who want to support the arts, but don’t know how. The video was a project created by SAA and produced pro bono by Dan Wiener and Tim Mattson at Sweet Victory Entertainment.

Get involved:
Student Advocates for the Arts has two events this month:

Arts Degree: October 14, 2010
Meet with student arts administrators from programs around New York City for some laid-back networking and arts talk over drinks!

America: Now and Here, October 21st, 6:30-8 p.m.
Arts leader Dorothy Dunn, in conversation about America: Now and Here, a community-centered traveling project to promote America: Now and Here.

For more information on either event: email studentartsadvocates@gmail.com or visit http://studentadvocatesforthearts.wordpress.com/.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or Arts Education Advocacy in Reality

September 9, 2010

By Victoria Plettner Saunders

My name is Victoria Plettner-Saunders and I am one of the founders of the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education, a local advocacy network initiated by the California Alliance for Arts Education. While our formal alliance launch was in May of 2010, we actually began to gain recognition for arts education advocacy with the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in June 2009 when we successfully convinced the SDUSD School Board to remove the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) from a list of things to eliminate to save money. At that time, we were a consistent presence at school board meetings and our message was clear: a) we want to be in partnership with the district on arts education issues and b) “We aren’t going away.” Here’s what that meant in reality.

In May we officially launched the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education and invited the school board president Richard Barrera to talk to our invited guests about the status of arts education in the District. By July, I’m in his speed dial and he was calling for my help. The school board is voting on Tuesday to put forth a ballot measure for a parcel tax to create local revenues for the District’s budget, he says. He wants to know if we can help by coming down to speak in support of it. He explained what is now referred to as Prop. J. The funds will be distributed to each school on a per student basis and decisions about using the funds will be up to each school. However, they are to be used for student instruction only and not for administration or overhead. Wearing my advocacy hat, I asked him if there is specific language to ensure that visual and performing arts instruction can be a recipient of the funds. I am concerned about specific language for arts education because without it, principals could think that the funds can only be used for science, technology, English and mathematics instruction. He says he’ll make sure that arts education is included. I tell him that I will be there and I send out an email asking for others to come down in support as well.

At the meeting, I get up and make a presentation during which I remind them that “we aren’t going away.” This time I indicate that their prioritization of arts education is important to us and that we will support them in finding a way to continue funding it via the parcel tax. The presentation detailing what will happen if Prop. J doesn’t pass described the loss of athletics, increased class sizes; loss of GATE, and half day kindergarten, but nowhere is there any indication that arts education could be affected.

Afterwards, I asked Mr. Barrera why the presentation didn’t indicate that the arts will be victims of the budget ax. We both know that if the District doesn’t find new revenues, hard decisions will have to be made and we can’t expect to be “saved” while other equally as important budget items are lost. To which he replied, “To be honest with you Victoria, I think they’re scared to. Arts education advocates made so much noise last year when they put it on the elimination list.” I’d like to believe that’s true, but I’ve learned that their campaign managers have a different perspective on what polls well for these things and “arts programs” weren’t part of it. I don’t necessarily agree with them and it hasn’t stopped us from putting the word out there ourselves.

In August (so much for my summer work slow down) a group of us met with the Prop J. campaign manager to talk about how the arts community can help. You see, while they calculated that the loss of arts programs didn’t poll well as a campaign strategy, we know that arts supporters and parents do care and need to know the potential repercussions. In the end they recognized the importance of our work on behalf of Prop J and are giving us a page on the Prop J website that explains what will happen to arts education if it doesn’t pass.

And so for the rest of our summer “vacation” we strove to become the best team players we can be. We want to show the school board that the arts community cares about arts education and that we are willing to work for the greater good to help ensure its survival. Advocacy can often come down to relationships and leverage. Our strong show of support helps us to continue building a positive and productive relationship with the school board, which makes it harder for them to eliminate arts education in the coming budget decisions without communicating with us first. It is now September 7, summer is essentially over and my husband and I and other arts education advocates are gearing up to educate the arts community about Prop J and will start our first phone banking tonight. Election Day can’t come soon enough.

Editorial Note: The San Diego Alliance for Arts Education is also a participant in the California Alliance’s district election survey project. School board candidates will fill out a survey, which will published on the Alliance website starting in October, giving voters a way to learn more about the candidates’ views on arts education. The survey project is one more way that advocates in San Diego are bringing the importance of arts education to decision makers attention.

A Letter Opposing AB 2446 and AB 35

August 10, 2010

Dear Senator Simitian,

I am writing to express my strong opposition to Assembly Bills 2446 and AB 35, both authored by Assemblyman Furutani. I appreciate your abstention on AB 2446 in the prior Committee vote, and urge you to take a stand and vote against both bills this time.

Here is why…

These bills should be dismissed based on one simple fact: Visual and Performing Arts, Foreign Language, and CTE are required courses of study in our state (California Education Code 51220). These subjects are deemed important enough to be required courses of study for all students; therefore, students should not be able to opt out of any of them.

Why do other required courses of study have stand alone requirements, while the Arts, Foreign Language, and CTE are expected to share one overcrowded line? Certainly the Committee can see the detrimental effect that this will have on all three subjects.

Consider this: Only 11% of California secondary schools are implementing the Visual and Performing Arts in accordance with the Education Code and Content Standards (Woodworth, et al., 2007). It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to enact legislation that would enable schools to implement the existing Education Code effectively, rather than continuing to undermine it?

AB 2446 and AB 35 are simply the wrong solution to a problem that has not been properly framed: namely, how can secondary schools provide access to high quality learning experiences that effectively prepare students for a variety of post-secondary options?

The problem is NOT that we technically can’t add more subsections to Education Code Section 51225, because we can. (I realize this has larger implications.)

The problem is NOT that students must choose between these three required courses of study, because they shouldn’t have to. (And I wonder, is that even legal?)

The problem IS that the school day and school year are too short and underfunded to provide the quality and scope of education we have already put into statute and that we know our students deserve.

We already know that without courses in both the Arts and Foreign Language, students will be ineligible to attend UC and CSU schools.

Why make this confusing for students and families? We know that our guidance system is weak. We know that some students will unwittingly opt out of college. Is the Legislature really willing to own that life-altering and expensive crack in the system?

We’re counting on you to find another solution, a better solution, hopefully the RIGHT solution. AB 2446 and AB 35 are not it.

Your very concerned constituent,
Dana Powell Russell, Ed.D.

AB 2446: A David and Goliath Story

July 1, 2010

by Laurie Schell, Executive Director

Yesterday, I traveled to Sacramento to give testimony before the Senate Education Committee against Assembly Bill 2446 (Furutani). The California Alliance opposes this bill because it means that fewer students would receive the benefits of the visual and performing arts. At a time when arts and music programs are being eliminated or drastically cut in school districts across our state, AB 2446 threatens to further limit access to arts education by adding career technical education as an alternative to the existing “visual and performing arts or foreign language” graduation requirement.

Although there is strong support for the bill (see list below) and it was passed in committee, there were important questions raised about the bill’s impact. Following is a detailed picture of yesterday’s hearing.

The Analysis:
The Committee’s analysis of the bill pointed out several potential shortcomings of this bill, including:

•    “Given current fiscal conditions, it is not clear how many school districts have the resources to provide CTE options for students without reducing course options in other areas.”

•    “…This significant change in policy could allow students to leave high school without having taken any arts or foreign language courses. In a state whose economy includes a robust arts and entertainment industry as well as increasing linguistic diversity, does that matter?”

•    “Students could end up taking fewer core academic classes, (…) which could affect the degree to which they are prepared for college-level work,” as well as “the rigor of CTE classes as compared to VAPA and foreign language classes”

To read more, including the potential fiscal impact of AB 2446, see the full analysis.

Discussion:
Senator Curren Price raised questions about the impact of the bill regarding equitable student access to the visual and performing arts and foreign language. His line of questioning led to an amendment requiring stricter reporting mechanisms be put in place to monitor impact.

Supporters of the Bill:
Just to give a sense of the magnitude of support for this bill, here’s a list of the heavy-hitters supporting it:

California Association of Sheet Metal and Air conditioning Contractors National Association
California Automotive Business Coalition
California Business Education Association
California Federation of Teachers
California Industrial and Technology Education Association and Foundation
California Manufacturers and Technology Association
California PTA
California Teachers Association
Metropolitan Education District
Small School Districts’ Association
State Building and Construction Trades Council

Opposing the Bill:
Arts Orange County
California Alliance for Arts Education
California Arts Advocates
California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
California Language Teachers Association
Education Trust West
Public Advocates
San Francisco Unified School District

The Vote:
The Bill will pass out of committee with 5 yea votes, 1 no, 2 abstaining and 1 absent. The votes are as follows:
No – Romero (East LA)
Yes – Huff  (Diamond Bar), Alquist  (San Jose), Emmerson  (Hemet), Hancock (Oakland), Liu (La Canada Flintridge)
Abstained – Price (LA), Simitian (Palo Alto)
Absent – Wyland (Carlsbad)

Thank you:

We are grateful to Senator Gloria Romero, the Committee Chair, for opposing this bill. We thank Senator Curren Price for raising concerns about the effects of this bill and adding an amendment requiring stricter reporting mechanisms be put in place to monitor its impact, and to Senator Joe Simitian, who also abstained from voting. Please send a message of thanks to Senators Romero, Price and Simitian:

Senator Gloria Romero  senator.romero@sen.ca.gov

Senator Curren Price  senator.price@sen.ca.gov

Senator Joe Simitian  senator.simitian@sen.ca.gov

We also had strong testimony and advocacy from our colleagues Lorraine D’Ambruoso from California Language Teachers Association, and lobbyist Liz Guillen of Public Advocates, who made a compelling argument on the equity and high quality teacher issues.

Next steps:

We will continue to make our case in opposition to the bill, which now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Stay tuned over the summer for updates and action alerts!

Our Testimony:
The following testimony was given before the California Senate Education Committee about AB 2446 by Alliance Executive Director Laurie Schell.

I speak on behalf of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, business and community leaders, arts organizations and concerned citizens, committed to ensuring that arts education is a core component of a quality education that every student in our state should receive.

Last year, Assemblyman Furutani introduced Assembly Bill 554, legislation very similar to AB 2446, allowing students to replace a course in visual and performing arts, foreign language, with a course in career technical education. The Alliance opposed the bill, making the case that the legislation would undermine students’ access to arts education and be denied of its potential benefits, including efforts to join the work force, as the visual and performing arts are uniquely qualified to provide students with the necessary skills to succeed in their lives and in the workforce.

The Alliance worked closely with Assemblyman Furutani to amend the bill, crafting language to ensure that it would do no harm to students’ access to arts education. The amendments stated that students be allowed to choose two courses from the subject areas of visual and performing arts, foreign language, and career technical education. Assemblyman Furutani accepted the amendments and the bill passed out of the Assembly Education Committee. This was an acceptable compromise.

But now we’re back where we started. We oppose Assembly Bill 2446 because it pits one subject area against another, because it creates access for career tech by undermining access to the visual and performing arts, and because it forces students to choose between a course in arts education or foreign language or career tech. And further, it creates a disincentive for students to pursue college preparatory courses and perpetuates a socio-economic gap between college bound and non-college bound students.

At a time when arts education programs are being cut in districts throughout the state, it sends the message that though we say we care about the arts, we are willing to push arts education to the side, even though we know that classes in dance, music, theatre and visual arts are the very courses that engage students who might otherwise drop out from school; even though research and employers indicate that arts education prepares students with the very skills they need to be successful in school and find their place in the 21st century workforce.

The unintended but inevitable consequence of this legislation will be that fewer students will have the opportunity to benefit from the skills and knowledge that arts education offers, and in too many cases, those will be the students most at risk, most disconnected from their education, most likely to drop out – the very students this bill is intending to help.

I ask the committee to step back and consider whether that’s the direction we want our schools to go. I ask that you reconsider the amendments Assemblyman Furutani proposed last year, and that you continue to support a comprehensive education for every student, one that includes the arts.

Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition

June 9, 2010

Alliance: Last week, as the California Assembly prepared to vote on AB 2446 (Furutani), the Alliance put out a call to arts education advocates.1500 advocates responded, sending messages of opposition to their representatives in the Assembly. We were inspired by the response and share one of those letters with you here. It was written by Bill Martinez, a music teacher in San Dimas, California.

Although the bill passed in the Assembly, we will continue our fight in the Senate. At a time when local districts have been forced to drastically cut art and music programs, this bill would further diminish access to arts education. It changes the high school graduation requirement, forcing students to choose between the Arts and Career Technical Education (CTE) and Foreign Language. As Martinez explains below, an “either / or” choice doesn’t serve California’s students

_________________________________________________________________

My wife and I have both been Music teachers for 15 years. During this time we have had the good fortune to work in communities that have supported our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students. Unfortunately, we have also had to deal with adversity common to arts teachers in California but uncommon to teachers in other core subjects. (I need to stress that Music and the Arts are Core subjects under No Child Left Behind.) Assembly Bill 2446 appears to be yet another symptom of the lack of regard and respect paid to our chosen subject matter.

Proof of the value of Music and Arts Education is abundant; I encourage you to go to the Music Educators National Conference website – menc.org – for a sampling of the abundance of research available on the subject. Despite this, for 15 years we have had to justify our value to the school curriculum over and over again: Budget problems, the perception that the Arts are a “luxury”, old and irreparable equipment (instruments) that can’t or won’t be replaced due to budget concerns, school site plans that take Arts availability away from students who score low on a standardized test, and the obsessive over-reliance of data from these tests that have turned students into statistics – Arts programs have survived, and in many schools thrived despite these obstacles. Arts advocacy has become a second (unpaid) job for many Arts teachers, and it will continue to be as long as our place in the curriculum needs to be justified.

Lumping other educational areas together with Arts education under one umbrella, as this appears to do, cheapens the value of all the courses involved. Could anyone imagine telling a high school student that they could fulfill a graduation requirement by taking either Algebra or Biology?

Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of Vocational courses, Arts education is unique and valuable on its own terms. It is certainly a component of the “College-Going-Culture” touted by school administrators and by the State’s own Taking Center Stage II” initiative. And it deserves to be preserved and expanded whenever possible. Any legislation that restricts student access to the Arts, or relegates it to “optional” status, as this appears to do, should not be considered. And I would certainly hope that the Governor, whose own wealth and status are a direct result of Arts involvement, would feel the same way, and that his example would inspire you to encourage advocating the Arts for all students.

Sincerely,
Bill Martinez
San Dimas, California

The Art of Beer: How One Business Brews Creativity

May 26, 2010

By Chris Cochran, Community Affairs, Stone Brewing Co.

Located in a unique facility that you must see to appreciate, the Stone Brewing Co. is known for making big character beers and for doing so in a very uncompromising manner. When visiting our brewing complex it’s easy to understand the influence of the arts just by looking around. From the eclectic architecture to the incredible food to the amazing beers, the work of creative minds is evident.

Did the welder building the brewery think that was going to be his career when he was eight? Doubtful. Did the chef think when he was ten years old that he’d be creating unique, organic items for a cutting edge restaurant later in life? Probably not. Did the architect grow up thinking he’d win design awards for creating one of the most challenging projects of his life? Dubious. And did the brewer sit in school dreaming of how he’d create the next great beer recipe? Unlikely.

What all those people did do was attend a school that had art programs and art classes. Art programs are vitally important to schools and to education because they do much more than simply teach people how to paint, draw or weld. They nurture creativity, problem solving, and innovation. These skills can lead to a variety of careers, and at the same time they shape our community and enrich our lives.

Currently many art programs in our school systems are in jeopardy of being cut back, or eliminated altogether. As local communities struggle to find a voice, and struggle to make ends meet, it is a shame that one of the things that could come to the rescue down the road is being taken away. But there is hope. Hope in you, in your neighbor, and in your neighborhood businesses and organizations.

That’s why the Stone Brewing Co. supports local, regional, and national non-profit organizations, including many within the arts and education realms. If you’re a patron of the arts in the San Diego region, or work in education, then you’ve probably been to an event that was serving donated Stone Brewing beer. Last month, Stone was proud to partner with the California Alliance for Arts Education to host an event for Escondido parents, teachers, art, business, and community leaders. These kinds of creative partnerships can build support for the arts.

We’re glad to be a part of a community that appreciates creativity and we hope you’ll join us in working to keep it that way. We all have the ability to demonstrate our support of the arts…we all have a voice…make your voice heard!

What Exactly Does the Superintendent of Public Instruction Do?

May 13, 2010

The Survey: This month, the California Alliance for Arts Education conducted a survey of candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction. It asked candidates to respond to go on record about a variety of issues related to arts education, including access, assessment and workforce preparation. The survey is intended to provide voters with information about how these candidates might impact arts education policy and implementation as superintendent. As we work to get the word out, many people have asked us, a little shyly, what does the State Superintendent of Education actually do?

California’s Education leadership is set up a bit differently than many other states’ and bears explanation. In most states, there is one elected official who oversees policy and administration, but in California there are two separate offices:

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected on a nonpartisan ballot for a four year term, runs the Department of Education and reports to:

The Secretary of Education, who is appointed by the Governor and serves as his primary education advisor and a member of his cabinet. The Secretary of Education works with the State Board of Education to develop the Administration’s education policy initiatives and is responsible for spearheading all Administration-sponsored legislation for education. The State Board of Education has eleven members, including one student member, all appointed by the Governor.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected on a nonpartisan ballot for a four-year term, runs the Department of Education, which implements education policy, overseeing California’s more than 9000 schools. As such, the Superintendent and the Department of Education are closely connected to what actually happens in classrooms.

As the highest elected education official, the Superintendent brings a mandate from the public on education issues, with broad powers to intervene in failing schools, set and enforce curriculum standards and interpret education law. Their leadership on particular education issues can help pave the way for their successful implementation and success in local districts.

The Superintendent also serves as an ex officio member of governing boards of the state’s higher education system. The current Superintendent of Public Instruction is Jack O’Connell.

The Election: The primary will be held June 8, 2010. Assuming there is a runoff for this office in the November election, the Alliance will continue to raise arts education as a priority issue in this election in a variety of forums. We will keep you informed as we move forward with those efforts.

More Questions? If you have a questions about the survey, the SPI or the election, post them below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

Well-Rounded Curriculum in the Spotlight as ESEA Re-Write Gains Momentum

April 28, 2010

By Heather Noonan, Vice President for Advocacy for the League of American Orchestras and Co-Chair of the ad-hoc National Arts Education Policy Working Group.

How will the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) support access to the arts as part of a well-rounded education for every child? This month the Administration, Congress, and arts education advocates have advanced the conversation. Now is a critical time for arts advocates to engage in the real heart of the debate.

Speaking before the national Arts Education Partnership forum on April 9, US. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his view, declaring that the arts “can no longer be treated as a frill,” and reported that, during his national listening tour, “almost everywhere I went, I heard people express concern that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools that serve disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students.”

The March 13 Obama Administration blueprint for re-writing ESEA lays out the Department’s view on federal education policy. Three areas of the blueprint emerged in Duncan’s remarks:

  • Proposals would allow states to incorporate assessments of subjects beyond English, language arts and math in their accountability systems.
  • The current Arts in Education funding program would be merged with other funding areas so that districts, states, and non-profits would apply for competitive grants to support the arts among other eligible non-tested core academic subjects of learning.
  • New resources for afterschool and extended day learning could open the door for support for arts education.

These proposals present opportunities, but also concerns, for arts advocates. All three are based on the assumption that state and local leaders would be incentivized to choose the arts when crafting applications to U.S. Department of Education and forming assessment plans. Arts proponents — already hard-pressed to gain support for the arts among state and local policymakers in the wake of NCLB’s math and reading focus ,and anxious about the added emphasis on Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the Obama funding and ESEA proposals – are asking: How will the arts gain traction, without stronger federal leadership?

If you look through the 45-page blueprint, you gain a deeper a sense of the major themes that will play out in the upcoming federal debate:

  • College and Career-Ready Students
  • School Turn-Around Strategies
  • Improved Professional Development
  • Evidence-Based Instructional Models

To be players in this rapidly-developing policy discussion, the arts education community will need to communicate how the arts advance these broad education goals. While advocates must continue to argue for the arts’ rightful place among core academic subjects accessed by all students, it will not be enough to complain about being pushed to the margins. In other words, asking to put the “STEAM in STEM” – while a memorable catch-phrase – does little to inject the arts into other areas of the broader policy debate.

The good news is that we have the goods to make a convincing case about the impact of the arts on improving education. On the heels of Secretary Duncan’s speech, more than 500 arts advocates took to Capitol Hill for national Arts Advocacy Day, calling for dedicated funding for arts education, improved national research, and annual state reports on the status and condition of all core academic subjects, including the arts.

The chair of the Senate committee charged with drafting the next ESEA says he plans to have a draft bill ready by June and recently hosted a hearing on “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student.” While completing the new law before the end of the year is unlikely, given the host of other policy priorities in this mid-term election year, early talks on the Hill will lay the foundation for the final bill to come. By weighing in now, and marshaling our best arguments, arts education advocates can and should claim a seat at the policy table.

The California PTA Makes the Case for the Parcel Tax Initiative

April 20, 2010

By Debbie Look, Legislative Director of the California State PTA

Alliance: As school districts all over California struggle to make tough budget decisions, the California PTA has undertaken a ballot initiative to make it easier for local communities to create local funding streams. The Parcel Tax initiative would lower the passage rate for parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent, making it easier for local communities to augment state funding for education programs.

Although the Alliance has not taken a position on this initiative, we note the trend in several school districts, notably Los Angeles and Pasadena Unified, who are using it as an alternative funding stream for arts education programs, which are often the first to be eliminated when there are state budget cuts. We have worked with the PTA since our inception over thirty years ago – and as ever, applaud their commitment to the providing a quality education to all students.

California PTA: The fiscal crisis in California impacts us all, especially the children in our schools right now, who have seen funding for their education slashed by more than $17 billion. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, but there are better, bolder options. We need practical solutions that help our local communities help their children.

That is why the California State PTA strongly supports qualifying the Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act for the statewide ballot in November. Delegates representing our nearly 1 million PTA members throughout the state approved a resolution at our 2008 convention calling for such a reform. PTA has a long history of finding real-world solutions to challenges, and today we need that same can-do spirit. There is something that can be done, and the California State PTA is working to see that it is done, by helping to qualify this initiative. If we are successful, it will be remarkable as a true grass-roots achievement, accomplished by true volunteers rather than the usual paid signature gatherers.

PTA supports this initiative as it will allow our local communities to support their children, by making it easier for school districts to raise money with local parcel taxes by lowering the passage rate from the currently required two-thirds to 55 percent.  The initiative seeks to strengthen local control of California schools and improve education quality by helping public schools generate stable, local funds that cannot be taken by the state.  If qualified, all of the money raised from local parcel taxes would have to be spent in the classroom on educational materials and programs. The act also calls for strict accountability, including annual audits to ensure funds are used properly and the appointment of an independent citizen’s oversight committee to report to the local community on how the funds are spent.

The act limits the total dollar value of proposals using the act’s provisions put before voters in any given election, to $250 per parcel, adjusted over time for inflation. This will limit how fast parcel taxes can be increased. The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act will not solve the state’s economic crisis on its own. It will not restore the billions of dollars of state funding already cut from our schools.  But it will make it easier for each community to help its own children. To learn more about the Act or to sign the petition, go to: www.improvedschoolfunding.com.

The choices we make in times of crisis are critical. There are more than 9 million children in California.  That means there are more than 9 million good reasons to give local communities the tools they need to help all children reach their full potential.  We ask that everyone who is seeking positive action, join our effort to gather the 1 million signatures we need by May 1 to qualify this crucial measure. The children of California need our help now.

AB 2446 Limits Access to Arts Education

April 7, 2010

Testimony given by Joe Landon, Alliance Policy Director, before the Education Committee hearing on AB 2446

I speak today on behalf of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, business and community leaders, arts organizations and concerned citizens, committed to ensuring that arts education is a core component of a quality education that every student in our state should receive.

In my experience as Policy Director, I have learned that arts education has no enemies. Everyone you talk to willingly expresses their support for the arts, tells stories of how it has impacted their lives or the lives of their children or friends. Clearly, the intent of this bill and its author is not to do harm to arts learning, but to provide greater access to career technical education.

No one questions that arts education cultivates creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—all touted as hallmark skills for success in the 21st-century workforce, or that the arts promote better questioning skills, more-focused periods of intense concentration, and greater understanding of problems that have multiple answers – all skills which promote success across all subject areas.

No one doubts that the arts reach out to the very students who might be most likely to drop out because they feel no connection to their education.

And no one wants students to go through their entire high school education without having to take one course in the arts or foreign language. But that’s what this bill would do.

We oppose this bill because it pits one subject area against another, because it creates access for career tech by undermining access for arts education as part of the core education that every student should be exposed to. At a time when arts education programs are being cut in districts throughout the state, it sends the message that though we care about the arts, we are willing to push arts education a little more to the side, a little harder for students to get to, a little less part of a well rounded education.

We reject the notion of the relation between arts education and career tech as either/or, and that’s what this bill does. We support and work closely with Career Technical Education’s Arts, Media and Entertainment pathway, providing a blueprint for preparation for students wishing to pursue arts related careers.

We support the Committee’s analysis of the bill, suggesting that the committee consider a more comprehensive review and revision of the high school graduation requirements, to ensure that graduates are embarking on the next stage of their lives with the skills they need to qualify for either postsecondary school education or family-wage career paths.

Last year, when Assemblyman Furutani introduced a similar bill, we made these same arguments. Back then, it all seemed to make sense and he amended the bill so that it would do no harm to arts education. Clearly, these are difficult times, and people can change their minds and while it’s clear that he has, what won’t change is the impact of this bill.

For the sake of our state, our future work force, and our students’ futures, we cannot afford to take short cuts that will ultimately lead our state into even bigger deficits in terms of financial as well as human capital and resources.

We urge a ‘no’ vote on AB 2446.


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