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White House report aims to boost arts education while LAUSD's programs face ax

May 10, 2011 |  7:42 pm

Hoping to reverse steep declines in arts education in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has issued a report aimed at giving arts-education advocates better ammunition as they try to persuade school boards, legislators and philanthropists to stop treating the arts as a frill or an afterthought.

“Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools” offers model arts education programs that local districts can copy, and cites studies that indicate arts education helps students do better in other subjects. For the full story, click here.

The report is already being referenced in Los Angeles, where the teachers’ union has begun an arts-specific component of its bid to stem drastic across-the-board cuts. Anticipating a $408-million drop in state funding, the Los Angeles Board of Education has adopted what one member called a "doomsday budget."

The picture could brighten if the state budget's $15-billion deficit isn't eliminated solely with spending cuts -- Gov. Jerry Brown's plan calls for erasing it with a combination of cuts and a tax increase.

According to United Teachers Los Angeles,  the adopted district budget calls for slashing the arts instruction staff from 1,065 to 722 full- and part-time positions, a 32% reduction.  Elementary school students would bear the brunt, losing almost 60% of their arts instructors -- from 210 to 91. Secondary school arts staffing would drop 26%.

Before the recession hit during the 2007-08 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District had spent a decade doubling its arts spending to about $124 million. Estimated current spending after two years of cuts is about $103 million, and the "doomsday budget" would drop it to about $69 million (the figures include full-salary estimates for about 200 high school teachers who divide their time between arts and other classes).

Compounding the likely woes, said Robin Lithgow, the district's head arts administrator, are seniority requirements for layoffs that would force some arts teachers who love working with young children to transfer to high schools -- replacing laid-off younger instructors who have established themselves with teenagers. High school jobs are more plentiful because LAUSD requires a year of arts instruction for graduation.

Using the slogan, “Arts Are at the Heart of Smart,” the effort to preserve state funding includes soliciting short personal videos from individuals about how the arts have mattered in their lives, a June 11 “Save the Arts” benefit art auction and performance evening at the Cocoanut Grove, and participation in a rally Friday at 4 p.m. in Pershing Square against state cuts to education and social services.


California has $2 billion in unexpected tax revenue

Schools get a major art loan

Federal cultural-grants agencies to lose 11.2% of their funding under budget deal

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Los Angeles Central High School No. 9, LAUSD's flagship arts campus. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times