East LA Dodgers House. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

One percent. That’s what some teachers, students, celebrities, musicians and activists throughout California say can make a difference in getting arts and music education to the children and youth who need it the most – without raising taxes. And in less than one week, that one percent will be on the November ballot as the only proposition without any formal opposition.

If Proposition 28 passes, each school would receive additional funding equal to, at minimum, one percent of the school’s total state and local revenue that would go to these programs – nearly $1 billion. Prop. 28 will not raise taxes but instead use money from the state’s general fund, which as of June 17 had a surplus of nearly $100 billion.

Currently, only one in five state public schools have a full-time arts or music program. The initiative requires that 80% of the funds allocated to schools go towards hiring arts and music teachers and aids, with the remaining 20% focused on training, supplies, and other programs. Schools that receive these funds will be required to publish annual reports outlining where funds went, how they coincide with state standards and the impact on students. 

The initiative was launched by former school superintendent Austin Beutner and has the support of numerous high-profile musicians and actors. While no argument against the proposition appears on the ballot, there is opposition to the measure from people who think the general fund surplus won’t exist forever and the initiative may put a strain on other important services.

But proponents of the measure say Proposition 28 will have a strong impact on Black and Latinx students, who comprise 61% of public K-12 enrollment in Californ – 77% in low-income communities like Boyle Heights. They say students from such backgrounds who do have an arts education are less likely to drop out of school, more likely to receive a research degree and more inclined to pursue professional careers.

“Art is a crucial way for Black and Brown communities to express their stories, find connections and spread our voices in community,” says Hector “Tetris” Arias, a former grafitero and at-risk youth who recently opened his very own Arts & Dance Center in Southeast LA (SELA) where aspiring artists, ages five and up, are welcomed.

“It’s a real shame that there’s little money for our young people in schools to connect with that part of our culture, but that can change,” adds Tetris, who in 2020 painted the famous Dodger House murals in East Los Angeles.

Tetris in Twitter profile picture.

“Finding art is what kept me from getting trouble with the law. Unfortunately, there’s lots of inner city kids who don’t have that outlet so they turn to graffiti and end up with a criminal record before they’re even 18, and suddenly they’re in a cycle that snowballs and keeps them from getting ahead,” says the 38-year-old muralist influencer who grew up in SELA. 

Tetris says that approval of Proposition 28 will help youth in underserved communities.

“We criminalize art because it’s not institutionalized,” he says. “We don’t value it enough to give schools the funding they need to give vulnerable youth that creative outlet, and we as a society need to vote to make it clear that it’s worth the investment.”

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Alex Medina

Alex Medina is a graduate of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School and 2018 alumnus of the Boyle Heights Beat. He is a recent graduate of Hamilton College in Central New York where he majored in Hispanic...

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