It’s been nearly a year since California voters passed a measure to guarantee arts and music funding in public schools.
Proposition 28 received an overwhelming 64% majority approval in November.
It is designed to increase and support resources for K-12 classes including dance, theater, and graphic design in all public school districts across the state. Without raising taxes, about $1 billion in the state budget is expected to be cut annually.
The San Diego Unified School District has begun spending on Prop. 28 money to hire new arts education teachers and expand its long-established Visual and Performing Arts program, also known as VAPA.
At Encanto Elementary, funding makes visual art more accessible to students attending the Title I school that supports many low-income families.
“They need to learn how to navigate all the visual elements that are constantly thrown at us in our world,” Heather Gaunt said. She was a core curriculum language arts teacher for 15 years, but painting was her passion, so she transferred to the VAPA program.
Before Prop. 28, Gaunt teaches just one art session per classroom every five weeks at Encanto. That frequency is increasing under Prop. 28, and finally, the art class takes place every week.
The district purchased a new classroom set of iPads so that each student can create visual art with a digital paintbrush that can lead to other forms of artwork.
Gaunt says it develops a natural tendency to create.
“I think early on, if it wasn’t developed and allowed to have a place to just experiment and there’s no right and wrong, it could have been cut off. Because (it can make students nervous … that what they do with art is right or wrong,” he said.
Gaunt also works with deaf and hard of hearing students at Lafayette Elementary in Clairemont Mesa, with the help of ASL interpreters.
The Lafayette campus is a special learning center for deaf students who come from all over San Diego County to receive services and their education.
“Many deaf children have very good visual acuity. Some of them are very good artists and it’s amazing what they can do,” said Annette Miner, an interpreter at the district’s deaf adult service. also manages programs involving school-aged children.
The state budget allocation approved with Prop. 28 is guaranteed and cannot be used for anything other than art education. There is also the benefit to the well-being of the students.
“The arts do a lot for mental health. They do a lot for (everyone). They center us. They give students a chance to connect in different ways,” said Russ Sperling, VAPA program director at San Diego Unified.
Sperling also said, “It really helps students find their inner voice to connect with their culture and heritage. As they get older they can also connect with the growing economy of creative arts and jobs. .”
The latest Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 study found that nonprofit arts organizations add $1.3 billion to the local economy.
Monica Harris is another VAPA teacher who finds her schedule hectic.
She is a veteran dancer, theater producer, teacher, and performing artist. Harris started as a substitute in 2013 and became a regular teacher at VAPA in 2019, with many visits to different schools.
“What they said to me, and to us as an artistic community, was ‘what you have, we want you to pass it on to our children.’ So that the legacy of the arts, music, dance, theater, painting, film, and all of these can be passed on to another generation of artists.”
Monica Harris, VAPA teacher in the San Diego Unified School District
Now he is ready to teach more than 700 students on three different campuses this school year. Like other VAPA teachers, his schedule in each classroom ranges from once a month to once a week in some cases.
“Be wise in art!” is the mantra of his classroom.
Harris considers voter approval of Prop. 28 as a vote of confidence in his talent and teaching.
“What they said to me, and to us as an artistic community, was ‘what you have, we want you to pass it on to our children.’ So that the legacy of the arts, music, dance, theater, painting, film, and all of that can be passed down so that there’s another generation of artists,” Harris said.
Amidst the dancing and acting happening in classrooms across the district, there is also hope that the spread of the arts will lead to a brighter future with more possibilities for students like the 8-year-old. Jade Robles, a third grader at Webster Elementary.
“I really enjoy it and I enjoy it,” she said of her art classes. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “Probably a policeman so I can save the world.”