Voters approved unprecedented funding for arts education; this is how we keep that promise

Courtesy: Santee Educational Complex

Music lessons at Santee Education Complex.

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The adoption of Proposition 28: The K-12 Arts and Music Education Funding Initiative in California is an exciting step forward for historically underfunded arts education programs in schools. The initiative allocates funds for 15,000 new positions, nearly doubling the current number of certified teachers providing visual and performing arts education in California public schools. To put things into perspective, this increase of 15,000 positions is equivalent to nearly 5% of the state’s teaching workforce.

Given the existing hiring difficulties due to an ongoing shortage of teachers compounded by the understaffing of district-level arts education offices, the implementation of this initiative is doomed to failure. Miserably.

But that doesn’t need to be the case. If there ever was a time for innovation and original ideas, this is it. After all, creatively solving complex problems is what we do best in the arts – it’s time to shine!

A recruitment effort of this magnitude will require both short-term and long-term strategies to attract and hire new teachers into the profession. Currently, California relies on a myriad of nonprofit organizations to provide unaccredited “teacher artists” as instructors who co-teach with certified teachers or lead after-school programs. These practitioner artists with K-12 teaching experience should be offered a pathway to a degree and full-time employment by districts through residency models that allow them to teach in the classroom while simultaneously following the required courses. In recent years, Chicago Public Schools has successfully implemented a residency program to develop its dance teacher bench, with candidates earning, in just over a year, a Master of Arts in Dance Education. Loyola University of Chicago as well as a degree in dance.

Looking further down the road, more colleges and universities need to offer undergraduate arts education programs, ensuring the state receives an annual crop of new, fully certified teachers each year. This is especially important for teachers of dance and drama, disciplines that are undersupported statewide—only a handful of California State University teacher-prep programs offer degrees in drama or acting. dance, while the University of California schools do not offer any degree-granting programs for undergraduates. . To further expand the catalog of arts programs, now is the time to develop a credential for media arts instructors who can teach the new state standards adopted in 2019.

To prepare for this hiring drive, principals will need guidance on how to screen candidates and support teachers in positions they have never handled. In California, many elementary schools have not had a full-time art teacher on staff for decades. Principals should be advised to provide dedicated classroom space and appropriate materials for instruction in the designated arts discipline. “Art on a cart” and choreography on the soccer field will not serve our students and will not provide art teachers with the working conditions they deserve. Schools should be encouraged to access local school planning funding sources and Covid relief grants to build arts spaces and purchase necessary materials.

Despite this preparation and everyone’s best efforts, full implementation of this initiative will take years. Districts should adopt policies that prioritize hiring and incentivize candidates to work in the most needy communities and schools where investment in the arts has been limited. (The ballot initiative already provides additional funding to schools serving economically disadvantaged students.) By prioritizing hiring in these schools, the arts can provide their proven positive impacts on school culture, attendance, perseverance and self-efficacy to the most needy schools as quickly as possible.

Even after these many vacancies are filled, the focus will be on retaining these new teachers and supporting high quality teaching. While many more schools will now be able to offer their students an arts education, its impact will be limited if the quality of teaching is inconsistent or poorly supported. Most districts will likely need to increase their administrative staff to provide significant mentoring and professional development programs for these new teachers. And many teachers hired through this initiative may be the only arts teachers in their school, making district-level collaboration and peer support essential to fostering professional connection.

This is truly an exciting time for arts education and arts educators across the state, but the challenges we face are significant. We need quick and strategic action from schools, districts, and the state to make the most of this opportunity to bring arts education and learning to millions of California students. . The exact path for recruiting, hiring and retaining thousands of arts teachers is still unclear, but it will take creativity and collaboration – some of the many skills learned through the arts – to make this vision a reality.


Alex Karas is director of arts education at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization that operates 20 LA Unified public schools in Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles, and Watts.

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