California Proposition 28 aims to secure funding for arts education

The proposition is campaigning virtually unopposed ahead of the midterm elections.

photo of protesters asking for more funding in schools

As of November 8 at 9 p.m. PST, Proposition 28 has passed and will increase spending on arts programs in public schools.

California voters will have the opportunity to ensure additional funding for arts education in public schools with Proposition 28, one of seven measures on the November 8 ballot.

The initiative, intended to preserve arts and music for K-12 education without raising taxes, is expected to provide an additional $1 billion in funding for programs including theater, dance, band and painting, as well as graphic design, computer programming and film.

“Every human being expresses themselves in some shape or form and we should be lifting up all students to find their voice of expression,” said Anne Fennell, president of the California Music Educators Association. “Maybe it’s in art, maybe it’s in words, maybe it’s in music or movement, but when a human being begins to learn to express who they are through alternative modes, [they] grow their own opportunity of what is possible in their lives.”

The proposal distributes funding based on a formula. The amount required each year would be 1% of the required state and local funding that public schools received the year before. Hence, with a $102 billion budget for K-12 schools in 2022-23, just over $1 billion would be allocated for Proposition 28 spending in the following fiscal year. That amount is 0.5% of the state’s General Fund budget.

By reserving a fixed amount of funding, the intention of the measure is to protect art and music education in the event of budget cuts. Historically, these disciplines are reduced ahead of STEM materials, as seen during the Great Recession and COVID-19 Pandemic. Fennell said passing the legislation would mean not only retaining current arts instructors but increasing the amount of credentialed arts educators.

Prop 28 also requires 80% of funding that individual schools receive go towards hiring arts-related staff in schools with 500 or more students. The remaining 20% is reserved for training, supplies and other programs.

“We need teachers that are experienced in an art form to be able to teach it well,” Fennell said. “We have subject-specific credentials to ensure the highest quality education.”

Further, Prop 28 will allocate 30% of appropriated funding towards economically disadvantaged pupils. A 2022 survey of arts education in California by SRI Education reported that school leaders found academic barriers such as inadequate funding, materials and facilities more common in majority Asian, Black and Latinx schools than in primarily white schools.

“There’s really a history here [in California] of trying to save money on taxes that has really had a disproportionate effect on balanced curriculums in schools,” said Peter Webster, former scholar in residence at USC and professor emeritus from Northwestern University. “For populations of kids who are in disadvantaged areas in the state, [Prop 28] is going to make a big difference.”

Prop 28 is among the most bipartisan measures on the November 8 ballot. In fact, no argument against the measure was submitted on the Official California Voter Information Guide.

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton called the measure one of the easiest “yes” votes on this year’s ballot, citing a clear educational benefit for young students.

The Yes on 28 campaign has received support from dozens of celebrities including Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, Jason Momoa, Barbra Streisand and Anderson Paak.

“I think it’s played a significant part in [the campaign] because what we see is these individuals making a living in the creative economy,” Fennell said. “They have lifted our culture, our state and our nation. They are saying, ‘Here I am as a living example of what is possible, and that everyone can have this opportunity to discover who they are as an artist.’”

The Yes on 28 political action committee raised about $10.6 million in contributions, according to Ballotpedia. The top donor is Austin Beutner, the former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent ($4.27 million). The editorial boards of The Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times have all endorsed Prop 28.

Some editorial boards in opposition include the San Diego Union-Tribune, Santa Cruz Sentinel and Mercury News. Arguments range from fiscal irresponsibility amidst economic downturn to notably high per-student expenditures during a low point in student enrollment.

“It’s a no-brainer that it’s needed,” Webster said. “[The arts] intend to give much more of a creative outlet for the artistic side of a child’s life, other than the most linear STEM studies. Just talk to people about what the arts do for us — music around the world. The argument that it shouldn’t be included in schools is often very, very spurious.”

The in-person voting period is open from now until 8 p.m. Election Day, November 8. For information about Los Angeles County voting centers, click here. For information about same-day voter registration, see this story.