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How Prop. 28 Is Negatively Affecting Arts Education Non-Profits Across California

By Bunny Hull

When Proposition 28 – Arts and Music in Schools – was announced and then passed in 2022, arts education non-profits all over California took a collective sigh of relief and let out a big wahoo!  It would mean funding for the arts and the work we love. In 2024, we finally found out what it all meant. 

Recalling the first big announcement of Prop. 28 at an event at the Music Center:  The room was filled with non-profits buzzing with excitement. Austin Beutner, former LAUSD Superintendent who led the Prop. 28 charge, took the stage accompanied by Will.I.Am, Jason Alexander and others, including a representative from School Gig, a proposed app that would connect schools directly with musicians and other artists.  You could see questions on faces that wondered how this could work when non-profits are obliged to provide TB testing, DOJ live scans (criminal background checks) and professional development for teaching artists as well as offer standards-based curriculum before ever being allowed to set foot on a school site. Something didn’t feel quite right.  You literally could feel the air leave the room when by the end of the presentation everyone realized the word “non-profit” was never spoken. 

According to Cause IQ, a company that provides information on the non-profit sector (the only source I could find that gives a count for California arts education non-profits), there are 729 arts education organizations in California. Combined, these Californian arts education nonprofits employ 3,225 people, earn more than $209 million in revenue each year, and have assets of $261 million. Los Angeles is home to 285 of those organizations.

These arts organizations generate economic activity and help support the artistic community while providing valuable services for schools and community.  Arts non-profits are dependent upon funding that comes from schools, private donors, grants from government sources like the California Arts Council (State), Los Angeles County Arts and Culture (County), Department of Cultural Affairs (City), the National Endowment of the Arts (National), foundations and generally anywhere else organizations can garner support.  Arts non-profits are run with blood, sweat and tears by passionate, dedicated individuals who endure the constant ups and downs tied to a financial landscape that rests on whether the arts are in or out of favor in any given year. 

We’ve all heard there is a proposed 38% cut in state funding on the horizon for the California Arts Council.  We’ve also heard, until recently, that LAUSD was cutting arts funding. We may have dodged a bullet there since it was reported $30 million was found and added for arts.  We’re still not sure how that will affect the overall funding landscape. Even though the California Education Code requires schools to offer courses in four arts disciplines, music, dance, theatre and visual arts to all K-12 students, arts are always on the chopping block.  Prop. 28 raised all of our hopes.

Now we know the truth. Prop. 28 while bolstering the hiring of credentialed arts teachers for school districts throughout California, which is needed and great by the way, has placed a serious hardship on the many non-profit arts organizations who have delivered arts education to public schools for decades.  

All of these non-profits came into existence for the sole purpose of helping the California school system fulfill a quality, well-rounded education.  It seems that in regard to the allocation of funds from Prop 28, support from the non-profit sector has been an after-thought, if thought of at all. Professional working artists, for the most part, don’t have a desire to be credentialed or teach full time.  They are “working artists.”  Most of them have much to offer, however, and relish being able to share their art to inspire students. The way it has worked up to now is that a classroom teacher who is credentialed remains in the classroom with a teaching artist.  This has always been constructive for the artist, the teacher and the students.

This year, arts non-profits learned, along with the public, that 80% of Prop. 28 funds would go to school districts specifically to hire credentialed teaching artists.  The remaining 20% could be spent on hiring non-profits but also to pay for supplies and activities like field trips.  Waivers are possible which could modify this split, but districts must submit an application, and then, prove why they want to change the split.

A principal from one of our partner districts, who asked to remain anonymous, wondered how districts will find all these credentialed arts teachers when every district in CA is now looking to hire them. Many have the same question. Information received from Create CA tells us that “a certificated employee has a bachelor’s degree, has completed an accredited teacher preparation program, completed 600 hours of student teaching, been fingerprinted and passed a background check and taken required tests or completed university-approved coursework.” Graduating arts students may or may not wish to teach. Teachers want to teach, artists want to make art.  It’s probably a good guess that most art and music students have aspirations to become working artists. 

Prior to founding Dream A World Education (DAWE) a 501(c)(3) non-profit, I spent my entire life in the arts as a professional artist, as a dancer, songwriter and singer, winning a Grammy® for my work in 1986. DAWE, founded in 2008, has developed standards-based curriculum that specializes in elementary arts education for Transitional Kindergarten through 5th grade.  Our unique arts programs address social emotional learning, culture and diversity and are taught by a diverse team of multi-disciplined “working artists.”  Curriculum weaves arts with language arts, geography and history and the dozens of artists we’ve hired and trained have brought the best of music, dance, drumming, theater, photography and more to under-resourced Title I schools.  Of the students we serve, 73% are Hispanic, 12% Black, 9% White, 4% Asian and 3% are “other” or mixed ethnicity.

Between Prop. 28 and the reduction in arts funding from the state budget as well as districts like LAUSD, we’ve been told by many partner schools that next year’s programming is uncertain.  The only thing keeping hope alive right now is the web-based arts programs we’ve developed as teaching tools for classroom teachers which we project will go into 25 plus new districts in the 2024-25 school year. Other non-profits, and especially the smaller ones with whom we’ve talked, may not have other means of support and are wondering what Prop. 28 means for their future. All the community-based organizations we have talked with are foreseeing a decline in their ability to provide programming for schools.

Is there a way that the distribution of Prop. 28 funds can be designed so non-profits can be part of the solution? Can the law be amended so that a greater share of that 80% can go to non-profits?  Can the distribution of funds be left to each school?  This would give them the freedom to do what they feel is best and continue to work with the organizations that have provided value to them many years.

We respectfully ask: Is California willing to rethink how Prop. 28 funds can be used in a more constructive and positive way?  We know it was Mr. Beutner’s intention to bring the best of the arts community to inspire students everywhere.  We know that teachers need the support.  Arts have always been the answer, and non-profits and teaching artists need to be part of the solution! The ultimate losers when things don’t work are always the communities – the children, parents and teachers.  We’ve been doing the hard work for a long time.  We know what we’re doing. Let us help! We made it through Covid.  Don’t let Prop. 28 be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Bunny Hull is Founder & Executive Director of Dream A World Education, Inc. a 501©(3) based in Los Angeles.  Hull is a Grammy-Award-Winning songwriter, singer, dancer and children’s author who founded Dream A World Education in 2008 after learning how many children in public schools in Los Angeles County did not have access to the arts. 

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