In Richmond, extra money for arts education is a matter of fairness

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It’s clear to Richmond High School junior Angelee Montances that when it comes to arts and music education, not all is equal in Richmond.

“Communities like mine, Richmond High, where it’s mostly brown kids, we don’t have the same opportunity as in Hercules, which is, you know, mostly Asian kids and white kids,” he said. she stated.

Montances is an elderly person who plays the viola in the Richmond High orchestra. East Bay Public High School, along with Kennedy High, is located in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and has 1,511 students, 85.4% of whom are Latino.

“And, you know, it also sucks because I feel like parents and students and teachers have been trying here at Richmond High and Kennedy High to get whatever funding they have (at Hercules High),” said Montances. “But we don’t have the money, you know.”

Many Richmond High families, including that of Montances, consider themselves to be working class.

“It’s really something that you think about and that not many people say, but it’s also about racing. It’s a question of socio-economic class, and that’s just a problem,” Montances said.

California Education Law requires all public schools to provide a comprehensive arts education, but in reality, very few do. In November, voters will decide whether to guarantee funding for the arts in public schools, including charters.

Proposition 28 would roughly double the amount of funding California gives to arts and music schools, and it would send 30% of that money to schools serving students from low-income families. Voters would also block this flow of funding for the future.

The measure would require public schools to spend 80% of the money to hire full-time art and music teachers, which could double the number of art and music teachers statewide.

In 2016, voters in Berkeley, a wealthier part of the Bay Area, raised taxes to boost music education by passing a package tax that raises $2 million a year to pay for everyone’s music education. public school children from the third year.

But just 11 miles north, in Richmond, many public elementary school principals have to plead with local community arts organizations to partner with them. Coming out of the pandemic, that cry grew even louder, according to Andrea Landin, director of school and neighborhood partnerships at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.

Sometimes children can’t quite name exactly what is going on emotionally or mentally, but once they start moving, singing or playing an instrument or getting on stage and pretending to be someone another, then there’s so much healing happening, so much realization and growth.

Andrea Landin, Director of School and Neighborhood Partnerships, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts

“I’ve had so many principals call me or email me and say, ‘My students have been sitting in front of a screen for a year and a half. They need to sing, they need to move, they need to express themselves,” Landin said.

The East Bay Center for the Performing Arts pays about $45 an hour to performers who don’t have a teaching degree to help teach art and music at as many public schools in the WCCUSD asking for help. help as possible. However, the center struggles to compete with tuition-based arts organizations in other parts of the Bay Area, which can pay these same artists between $80 and $100 an hour.

Landin said there was never enough money or performers to keep up with demand, which means many Richmond-area kids are missing out.

Music Director Andrew Wilke leads an orchestral class at Richmond High School in Richmond on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. Richmond High School’s arts programming would benefit from Prop 28, a move that would roughly double the amount of funding that California grants to schools of arts and musical education. “We could use it, desperately,” Wilke said. “Not having to worry about finances on top of teaching seven classes would make my job more manageable, which would make me a better teacher and the kids happier,” Wilke said.

“Sometimes kids can’t really name exactly what’s going on emotionally or mentally, but once they start moving or singing or playing an instrument or getting on stage and pretending to be someone else, then there’s so much healing happening, so much realization and growth,” Landin explained.

If approved by voters, Proposition 28 would roughly double funding for the arts in schools. The Office of the Legislative Analyst estimates that it would raise between $800 million and $1 billion a year.

By some estimates, that translates to about $166 per student statewide. A school like Richmond High would have about $250,000 more per year.

“It would change everything,” said Andrew Wilke, head of music at Richmond High. Wilke teaches seven periods, directs the band and orchestra, and oversees all instruments, programming, and transportation.

“I’m at an emotional low point,” Wilke said. “Not only am I trying to hold all these classes together, I’m trying to raise money, I’m trying to support the kids, which is the real job we all have.”

Currently, Richmond High’s music programs can only serve 140 students. Wilke said more money would mean hiring another music teacher, and the opportunities the school could create for students would not be limited by the time he could devote to them. Wilke noted that with guaranteed funding, there would be no struggle for supplies, nor a limit to the performances the orchestra and marching band could do lacking transportation funds. And Richmond High could hire specialist instrument coaches for students like Montances.

Of the approximately $1 billion raised by Proposition 28 each school year, 30% would go to schools serving economically disadvantaged students.

The California Teachers Association helped pass the measure by donating $1 million.

Landin thinks filling those credentialed art and music teaching positions could be a challenge for schools. “I was like, ‘This is beautiful. Where are they going to find all the teachers?’” she said.

Landin says that during COVID, many artists have left the Bay Area for less expensive places. And spoken word artist and Jazz poet Monique Hudson, who taught under contract at Oakland schools, saw arts programs scaled back or eliminated when schools made budget cuts. Hudson had to find a full-time job with the district attorney’s office as a victims’ advocate in order to support her family.

“Youth Speaks is very big in San Francisco,” Hudson explained, referring to the nonprofit’s leading presenter of youth poetry slams, spoken word performances and youth development programs. “However, they have been unable to sustain and sustain their partnerships with Oakland schools due to funding. I was scheduled to teach at Elmhurst Middle School this semester, but was unable to teach in the arts program because there was not enough funding for the spoken word program.

If voters approved Proposition 28, it would freeze funding for the arts, making them less susceptible to budget cuts in tough times.

This is in fact one of the reasons why some critics have spoken out against the measure: they oppose so-called “ballot box budgeting” because it freezes funding that cannot be undone, for example, in the event of a recession.

Marguerite Roza, who studies educational finance at Georgetown University, points out that California schools have more money now than they have had in years. The current state budget, passed in June, has increased school spending by 13% compared to last year. Some of this funding could theoretically go to arts education.

KQED_Richmond_Orchestra

Grade 12 Angelee Montances plays the viola during band class at Richmond High School in Richmond on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Richmond High School’s arts programming would benefit from Prop 28, a measure that would roughly double the amount of funding California gives schools for arts and music education. “We could use it, desperately,” said Richmond High School music director Andrew Wilke. “Not having to worry about finances on top of teaching seven classes would make my job more manageable, which would make me a better teacher and the kids happier,” Wilke said.

Roza says that if passed, Proposition 28 would force the state and schools to find new ways to track staff — since school districts will have to show specifically how they spent their new arts funds — which can be complicated and time consuming to implement. Plus, she adds, creating a separate “category” would add extra rules to the different fund pots, which could mean districts end up spending more time on compliance than trying to deliver. what their students need.

“This push for separate funds for arts education would be a return to the old model, where lawmakers dictate how districts allocate their budgets,” Roza said, referring to the period before the formula was implemented. Local Control Funding Program in 2016, which fundamentally changed the way all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in the state are funded.

At Peres Elementary School in Richmond, principal Christy Chen says she constantly has to push community partnerships to bring art into the schools.

This fall, thanks to the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, its CM1 students are discovering African rhythms. But Chen says that currently her children are only allowed half an hour of art or music per week.

“It would be a dream to have a music teacher, because ultimately it gets kids excited,” Chen said.

At Richmond High, music leader Andrew Wilke says he doesn’t need much. Even $20,000 more like the Hercules neighborhood for music would help his children.

“I say to children, arts and music – these are languages. It is not a tactile language like English, where you can say “desk”, “ground”, “sky”. It is an emotional language where we can express ourselves. I think people who haven’t had a chance to really dive into it don’t fully understand it, which makes it difficult to convey the importance,” he said.

This story was made possible as part of The California Newsroom – a collaboration of California public radio stations, NPR and CalMatters.

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