For our first blog of 2010, veteran arts education legislative advocate Kathy Lynch, describes some of the big changes that are brewing in California.
Alliance: Do things look any better for Arts Education programs in 2010?
KL: Yes and No. This past year, we went through two harrowing budget cycles. There were cuts, revenue enhancements and borrowing. When revenue didn’t come in as expected, more cuts were issued. It has decimated hard-won arts education programs and left the public really frustrated.
The approval rating for the legislature is in single digits and the Governor is around 20%. There’s a sense that things need to change in a fundamental way. So this crisis may actually create an opportunity for us to make some fundamental changes to how we do things in California.
Alliance: What sorts of changes are being considered?
KL: There is growing interest in revising how California’s government collects and spends tax revenue. This is something that’s been building for a very long time and now has reached a sort of pinnacle.
We haven’t looked at our taxation policy since Prop 13 some forty years ago, so we’re working with a system that’s pretty outdated.
Alliance: Can you talk about some of the changes that have taken place and how they’re impacting us?
KL There have been major shifts in the state’s economy that have left our tax system out of date and are causing these major shortfalls. We’ve moved away from manufacturing and agriculture to a more service-based economy, but our tax structure doesn’t reflect this and so we are missing out on revenue.
We’re also burdened by regulations in California, making it hard for businesses here to compete internationally.
In addition, when the dot.com bubble burst, we lost a lot of revenue and yet we continued to spend. We are still running those deficits. This past year several reports were released recommending major changes to address these issues.
Alliance: Can you tell us more about the reports?
KL: There’s CalForward (url), a blue-ribbon committee created by the Governor and legislators, that has released proposals for everything from changing the 2/3 vote requirement for budgets and taxation policy to looking at safety net issues and education.
They’re recommending things like Pay‐As‐You‐Go-Spending, which would require that new programs and initiatives identify a funding source for any new spending; Base Budgets on Results, which would require clear goals for every program, measuring their effectiveness, and regularly fixing or eliminating programs that aren’t working. They’re also recommending Majority‐Vote Budgets, so that our state budget can be passed with a simple majority, reducing the likelihood of lengthy, wasteful budget standoffs.
Alliance: How might this connect to arts education programs?
KL: What’s happening right now is that we get a great arts education program in place, work hard over the years to get the block grant to support those programs, but then the whole thing gets pulled out from under us –- not because the policy shifted, not because there was less commitment but because of our financial restraints. So the hope is that these changes will provide more stability for education programs.
Alliance: What other reports are out there?
KL: There’s also a report from the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, (url) convened by Governor Schwarzenegger, to examine our current tax policy. It contains recommendations that would dramatically overhaul the state’s tax structure, bringing it up-to-date with some of the changes in California’s economy that I mentioned.
Alliance: How does arts education fit into discussions about a 21st Century economy?
KL: Well, I think there’s a growing recognition from this and other research about California that arts education plays a vital role in the state’s economy. People see that arts education contributes to kids’ cognitive development and to increasing graduating rates. They also understand that comprehensive arts education fosters the creativity and innovation needed to build a competitive workforce and contribute to our state’s prosperity.