Courtesy of Layna Lapikas / The Highlander

Various K-12 school districts throughout California have been accused of misusing government-directed funds meant to expand arts education in public and charter schools. Prop. 28, a ballot initiative approved in 2022, allocates up to 1% of the minimum state funding specifically for arts education. Recently, supporters of the initiative, including labor unions and former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutnar, alleged that several school administrators are backfiling or redirecting the received funding. LAUSD must commit to transparency about spending funds while actively affirming the desire to increase arts education. 

While several districts throughout the state are being called out for their misuse of funding, LAUSD is taking the majority of the heat as district staff and teachers speak out about the changes in arts education at their schools. Some unionized teachers claim that arts education at their respective schools faced cuts even in the years immediately after Prop. 28. Others claim that schools are taking advantage of the additional funding and finding ways to work around the law. One of the recognized priorities of Prop. 28 was to use at least 80% of the given funds to hire new arts staff. In a supposed attempt to go around the initiative, LAUSD has been accused of firing existing full-time art teachers and re-hiring them with the newly allocated funds in direct violation of Prop. 28. The severity and quantity of accusations also indicate the need for increased oversight over arts expenditures. 

In response to the accusations, LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Pedro Salcido pointed out that the number of full-time arts teachers in the district nearly doubled from 273 to 540 in the last school year. Additionally, Salcido expressed the normalcy of reducing arts programs due to declined enrollment, using per-pupil basis funding as an explanation. Despite district reassurances, complaints from the proponents of Prop. 28 reached the California Department of Education. Although there was no official report of misused funding or investigation, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond sent a reminder in April to school districts that the additional money from Prop. 28 is meant to supplant arts education, not supplement already existing programs. 

While Prop. 28 encourages California school districts to reinvigorate their commitment to bettering performing arts education for children, community accounts of misuse in funding point to the need for increased transparency and oversight of administration expenditures. Having the appropriate oversight committees that can monitor and document the spending and student enrollment in schools throughout LAUSD can not only ensure that funding is not misused but also build community trust in district spending. 

The only current offering of transparency by LAUSD is an official online directory that is accessible to the public and provides information on how funds from Prop. 28 are allocated throughout the district. The existence of this directory does little to reassure the public about the legitimacy of LAUSD’s spending, as the confusing layout and complexity of the data make it difficult to understand anything. The district should take the time to develop easily understandable yet detailed reports that can provide necessary information on spending. 

The newness of Prop. 28 and the emerging issues point to the need for subtle reforms and public or administrative oversight of expenditures to help maintain the proposition’s integrity while increasing the existence of youth art programs across the state. Monitoring these funds and easy access to metrics can emphasize transparency in the district and show teachers and students alike that LAUSD is committed to encouraging arts education. Ensuring these funds are used as intended is essential to maintaining public trust and achieving the initiative’s goals. The allegations of misused funds and the resulting confusion have cast a shadow over what should be a celebrated advancement in educational policy. 

Despite these challenges, Prop. 28’s value does not diminish. Access to robust arts programs enriches students’ educational experiences by encouraging creative thinking and social-emotional skill development while improving mental health creativity and enhancing psychological well-being. Ensuring that the funding dedicated to these programs is used effectively and transparently is imperative. Doing so fully realizes the transformative potential of arts education, benefiting students across California and setting a standard for educational excellence.