Ballot Proposition 28 would create a dedicated funding stream for arts programs in the public schools. It would not raise taxes, but instead require that the state match 1% of California’s prekindergarten-through-12th-grade school dollars from the general fund. The funding could not be used to supplant existing arts budgeting.

California’s legislative analyst estimates the set-aside would generate up to $1 billion. Seventy percent of the funding would be distributed to schools based on their enrollment. The remainder would provide additional funding for schools that serve low-income families.

The definition of arts programs is broad, including visual art, music, dance, video and computer art. The funding is for instructors for these programs, as well as for materials. Not more than 1% may be used for administrative purposes.

You could say that this is ballot-box budgeting and that school spending should be determined locally by elected boards or groups of teachers, parents, and students. But that is not how it works in reality. A combination of budget shortfalls and concentration on “teaching to the standardized test” have caused school districts to greatly reduce funding to arts programs.

California’s educational standards include arts instruction, which has known benefits for students’ intellectual and emotional development. At the same time, the state mandates either directly, by decree or indirectly, via rewards and penalties based on test scores, that schools concentrate on reading and math. School districts often require specific numbers of hours for such instruction, leaving little time for anything else. This is especially true in low-income areas where test scores tend to be lower.

Wealthier families can afford music and art instruction and experiences for their children outside of school. Music and art instruction have been demonstrated to help children learn in all areas.

Despite its imperfections, this ballot proposition gives voters a chance to decide whether they want California children to get more arts instruction in schools. Peace & Freedom Party urges a YES vote on proposition 28.

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