Without art, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
During distance learning, two of my grandparents passed away within a week. As a result, I fell into a depression that felt never-ending. What got me out of the dark was connecting to the California State Summer School for the Arts. For the first time in months, I was feeling creative; I started the rigorous application and was accepted that summer.
Before this opportunity, college was not an option. However, I am attending UC Irvine thanks to the Summer School for the Arts and a scholarship from the Herb Alpert Foundation. I am proof that even the smallest space for art in students’ lives can have a monumental impact.
I realize how privileged I am to have had an arts education, primarily since I had to leave my school district to pursue my artistic ambitions at The School of Arts and Enterprise. However, I worried about other students in my old district who were passionate about the arts but lacked the same access to a complete arts education. I carried my determination to fight for their right to an arts education through an internship with Create CA, an organization advocating for arts education for all students.
To begin my advocacy journey, I interviewed my middle school band director, Tim Kinney, who has taught at my old school district, Pomona Unified, for over 25 years. He told me he currently teaches over 300 students across five schools, and students only receive 30 minutes of music instruction a week. When asked how to improve arts programs, he said he couldn’t think of much outside of more funding for additional teachers and instruments, but he was grateful for the district’s help, like buying a few instruments for students.
Thinking back to the fourth grade when I was finally allowed to take instrumental music, I remember we convened once a week — if we were lucky — because the music class took place at the same time as our regular classes. Teachers occasionally wouldn’t let us go. In those 30 minutes, I fell in love with not just music but the arts and the process of creating. At the time, I believed that the arts and academics were exclusive, available only to a fortunate few. I now know that core academic subjects and a well-rounded education must include the arts.
There are plenty of benefits to arts education: Data shows that students involved in the arts are three times more likely to attend school, five times less likely to drop out, and two times more likely to graduate high school, yet 89% of California schools do not offer mandated levels of arts instruction.
In my local district, only one-third of students participate in arts courses. This statistic indicates inequality among schools, especially when the poverty rate in Pomona is double that of neighboring cities. Almost accepting defeat because, as a 17-year-old, I can’t ease Pomona’s poverty levels, I saw a ray of hope when I learned about Proposition 28.
Proposition 28 will require a minimum of 1% of the total revenues school districts received under Proposition 98 (the state’s mandatory minimum education spending) the prior year to fund arts education programs. This money, estimated between $800 million and $1 billion a year, would be in addition to the funding required by Proposition 98 — meaning more money for schools overall. These funds will be distributed to K-12 schools yearly and will hold schools accountable by requiring annual reports to be submitted to the California Department of Education. In addition, the proposition will provide more funding to underserved schools.
Californians are ready for change. This fall, if Proposition 28 passes, schools across the state can offer quality arts courses to all students. This November, you will be able to invest in the future of students like me, historically marginalized students who live in low-income communities.
Now is the time for Californians to honor our verbal commitment to equity and vote yes on Proposition 28 to prepare students for success by providing them with a well-rounded and well-funded education.
Matthew Garcia-Ramirez is a student at the University of California Irvine majoring in social policy and public service; in his free time, Garcia-Ramirez loves to write poetry about his unique experience as a Chicano, and in 2022 self-published his first poetry collection.
The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.