Posts Tagged ‘community partnerships’

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.
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You Asked: Advocacy Tips for your District

March 16, 2010

Whether you are just getting started, or have been at it a while, organizing successful advocacy in your district can be tough. Earlier this month we brought together advocates from all over the state for a webinar, Standing Up for Arts Education. Veterans from the field offered tips on the basics, from building a team, crafting effective messages to picking the right targets. Participants asked questions and posited next steps.

This week on our blog, we answer some of the most popular questions, as well as ones that we didn’t have time to address during the event. Sonoma Alliance for Arts Education advocate, Karin Demarest and the Alliance’s policy director, Joe Landon join us with answers.


CA: Let’s start with one of the most challenging issues. When you are working with a team – usually all volunteers– how do you get people to follow through?

KD: It’s tough! In Sonoma, we created a charter for ourselves, so there is a structure that holds our work, rather than one person or project. We have a chair, a vice chair, a secretary and sub committees. And, we have the charter to go back to when we are starting a project or in the middle of one and maybe getting sidetracked.

JL: In our Local Advocacy Network project, we encourage the leadership teams to distribute the work, so that the load is shared and people are playing to their strengths, whether it’s in-person communication skills, setting up meetings, or writing letters. Spreading out the responsibility seems to help.

KD: Another fundamental part of our group is the relationships we have with each other. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to the work. We laugh, we go out for dinner or drinks after our meetings, there’s a social aspect to it. I try to make it fun.

We are artists and arts organizations, but at times it feels like we could be selling plumbing fixtures — it feels like many of the meetings in the arts have no creativity in them. I believe it’s important to bring  creativity to our monthly meetings. At our last meeting, we had a conversation about a piece of art. It was such a success that now we’re planning to have one person bring in a creative exercise or element at every gathering.

CA: With these efforts relying so much on volunteer work, what benefits and attributes can arts organizations offer as a resource to the cause?

KD: Well, the Alliance’s advocacy work aligns really well with the existing missions of many of these organizations. So taking time to come to a meeting and working with community partners is a part of the work they already do.

Beyond that, we’ve tried to really look at how we can support the work of these arts organizations. We want to provide mutual benefit and assistance for all of our partners.

In Sonoma we have partnered with Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Sonoma County Museum, Charles Schulz Museum, Spreckels Performing Arts Center and Chops Teen Club. They’ve helped us in a number of ways. The organizations’ visibility is a huge asset. They are already known in the community, and so they can leverage their visibility to help our work.

So for instance, as we were planning our Get smART event, one of our officers is the director of education at the Shultz museum. She was able to use her relationships with other museums in the area to get them involved for this event.

They’ve also been really generous with their facilities. Most local advocacy efforts are run out of someone’s home, so having access to facilities is a real help.

CA: How can nonprofit arts organizations get involved in advocacy without endangering their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?

JL: Nonprofit organizations have an essential role to play in the policy process.  Nonprofit organizations include 501(c)(3) organizations (public charities, public foundations, and private foundations), 501(c)(4) organizations (social welfare organizations), 501(c)(5) organizations (labor unions), 501(c)(6) organizations (business leagues), 527 organizations (political organizations), and others.  All nonprofits can engage in advocacy, although the scope and extent of their lobbying activities vary according to the tax-exempt status of the organization.

Advocacy allows organizations to serve their constituencies and promote their causes through educating the public and policymakers, conducting research, litigating, organizing, lobbying, and more.  Lobbying is just one form of advocacy.

The Alliance for Justice is an organization that can help you learn the ropes for lobbying and nonprofit organizations. For more information:

CA: What messages will resonate most in my community?

JL: The messages we’ve found most effective center around Equity, Access, Economic Opportunity and Quality. There are talking points on our website.  But it helps to translate your message to the unique environment in your district. Find out what concerns you share with other community leaders.

Are people concerned about gangs or dropout rates? If so, it might be useful to highlight reports that show how arts programs increase graduation rates and academic performance. If there is community concern about preparing kids for jobs, then presenting findings from research that shows that arts education fosters creativity, collaboration, problem solving and self-direction might be most effective.

CA: Where can people find information about how arts education prepares young people for the workforce?

JL: Pat Wayne, who is heading our countywide Local Advocacy Network project in Orange County, has developed a great presentation that focuses on that. That presentation is available here.

There’s also a report from the Center for Arts and Culture that argues that the ability to thing creatively, communicate effectively and work collaboratively that the arts and humanities develop are essential to prepare students to master fast-paced technological advances, globalization and other major shifts in business.

CA: If you have a question about advocating for arts education in your local school district, email it to sibyl@artsed411.org or check out our facebook page, where we’ll be answering questions.

Next up: How can I raise the profile of the arts at my school and in my community?

Sustaining Advocacy on a Local Level

February 16, 2010

By Joe Landon, Policy Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

When I joined the Alliance as its policy director in 2006, they were savoring the hard earned victory that led to California’s historic investment in arts education, including the one time block grant shared with physical education, as well as the ongoing “Arts and Music” categorical funding.

But even then, the Alliance’s concern was shifting toward the question of how to sustain advocacy at the local level, where crucial decisions made by local school boards  determine the quality, equity, and access of arts education in that school district.

When last year the state legislature gave local districts the ‘flexibility’ to spend the Arts and Music Block grant on whatever programs they considered most essential, the Alliance had already embarked on a project to build a local advocacy network in communities and districts throughout the state.

In the first year of this pilot program, we selected ten sites throughout the state, reflecting diverse communities, geographical areas and economic conditions. Our goal was to gather the expertise around what would be required to foster an ongoing coalition of local leaders who share a commitment to build public understanding and support for the critical role of arts education in the development of every student.

True to its name, the California Alliance believes in the unique strength that grows from an alliance of diverse stakeholders. The local coalitions represent a cross section of community interests, including business, community, education and arts organizations. Their united message is intended to convey the myriad ways in which an investment in arts education is an investment in the well being of the larger community.

Although there have been communities throughout the country where there was a sustained effort to organize arts education advocates, there is no precedent for a statewide effort to capture local advocacy. This is challenging work, in the best of times, coming in from a distance to help unite and focus the natural support that exists for arts education in a community.

Right now schools districts around the state are feeling tremendous pressure to scale down services to meet budget cuts. We’ve been here before and we know what happens. We need to fight to protect arts education and that means building coalitions from the ground up in every school district.

This week we’re kicking off a series of ten new local alliances in Orange and San Diego Counties. We look forward to spreading this work throughout the state, providing the support and strategies that local alliances need to advocate effectively for arts education.

Are Public-Private Partnerships the Way Forward?

February 4, 2010

In recent years, the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) has put together an innovative program called My Masterpieces: Discovering Art in My Community, which capitalizes on local art institutions through field trips and specifically co-designed K-6 visual art curriculum. With California facing a fiscal meltdown and harrowing cycles of budget cuts, we wondered if these kinds of public-private models offer a viable way to build sustainable arts education programs. We spoke with Marshall Ayers, the Arts Education Coordinator for the district, to learn more.

Alliance: Were there existing relationships with local art institutions before the partnership?

MA: There were long-standing relationships with many of the local institutions. But the programs varied from school to school, depending on if there was a strong interest among parents or an individual principal. We had students accessing some cultural institutions, but it was in a more or less random manner. We hoped curriculum based partnerships could address issues of equity and access.

Alliance: How did the partnerships get started?

MA: At a recent training for arts coordinators, evaluator Lynn Waldorf said, “When you don’t have money, it’s a good time to plan.” And that really proved to be true for us.

It began with the launch for the Arts for All initiative. PUSD became an Arts for all District in 2004 and that started the process of developing our arts plan as well as a district arts team and a community arts team. At the same time, the city was undergoing a cultural strategic planning process. That meant most of those arts partners were already around our table. Later, when block grant funds or other private funding became available, we were ready with a plan.

Alliance: How did having all those entities involved affect the planning process?

MA: I think it really helped to have all the stakeholders at the table. We began with a feasibility study prepared by the senior author on the project Jennifer Olson. The study looked at how this community could provide field trips embedded in curricular connections using the cultural resources that were already here. There was talk about a unique Pasadena curriculum because of the collections here in the city. We tried to capitalize on what we saw as permanent fixtures.

Previously, art institutions had been trying to build relationships and programs with the school district with varying degrees of success Now they were around a table with PUSD teachers who knew the core content standards, and could say ‘Here’s how this could work for us.”

Alliance: Can you give an example?

MA: Well, we are an Open Court district and in second grade one of the unit themes is “Heroes.” So we bring 2nd grade to City Hall where they take part in a public art walking tour that includes the Pasadena Robinson Memorial. It just made sense to for teachers who are already studying heroes, who may already be using Jackie and Mack Robinson in their lessons, to do a classroom art lesson where students then create their own sculptural hero portraits. The next time they drive by those sculptures, those 2nd graders are really going to remember that lesson.

Alliance: What were some of the ideas that came from local institutions?

MA: Museum educators were interested in return visits, so we built free family passes into the program. They appreciated that it’s about civic engagement and audience development. The idea that starting in kindergarten, PUSD students’ feet would have passed through each one of these institutions by the time they finished 6th grade. It’s a win win.

Another need we identified was for museum staff to be educated about who our students are, so they can think about how to work with specific school populations. Together, we identified the places where their institution might already be aligned with certain ages and grades. Instead of trying to serve every grade level programmatically, we suggested that perhaps institutions could adopt an entire single grade level – taking a horizontal rather than vertical approach.

Alliance: As you’ve mentioned Pasadena has such amazing cultural resources. Do you think the program can be applied in other districts?

MA: It’s hard to say because we designed it specifically for this community. But I think most communities have individual artists, or assets or people or places that they could, if they looked at it through this lens, build a similar kind of curriculum. It might not be around visual art, it might be around music, dance or theater. This model could also apply to other subject matters like science or math. The important thing is to play to your strengths.

For more information about the PUSD programclick here

*Ed. note: In 2004, the Alliance guided the development of the district wide arts plan in Pasadena Unified utilizing our Insider’s Guide to Arts Education Planning http://artsed411.org/insidersguide/index.aspx.