A Most Unusual Advocacy Season
The great recession, as it’s now called, continues to wreak havoc on local government, school districts and our state. Yet because of our grassroots power, arts and arts education are no longer sacrificed or treated as dessert. Congratulations, advocates-- that’s a success in itself!
The plethora of issues facing arts and arts education at the local, state and federal levels continues to remain in play during this most unusual advocacy season. Although there are no easy solutions in this budget year, I hope to continue to unpack the advocacy/policy suitcase by updating you on the issues you care about.
Big Picture Reality Check: School boards across the County recognize K-12 arts education as core curriculum. Local municipalities haven’t proposed elimination of Departments of Cultural Affairs, or even consolidation into other departments. That’s good news indeed. But many city councils are still faced with large deficits, and across-the-board cuts to all city departments have become the new normal.
The City of LA is facing a $450 million budget deficit. Mayor Villaraigosa has proposed to reduce the Department of Cultural Affairs budget by 15-22%, depending on how you slice it. The budget is being reviewed by the Budget & Finance Committee who will make additional recommendations before it goes before the full Council in early May.
On Thursday, April 21st, Arts for LA convened organizational members in the City of LA for a briefing with DCA senior staff to better understand the nuances of the Mayor’s proposed budget. The good news is that the Department's 1% allocation from the Transient & Occupancy Tax (TOT) is still intact, but the General Fund allocation to the Department has been eliminated. This means the Department is now operating solely on its TOT allocation. Eliminating the general fund allocation to the Department is a double-edged sword: the decade-long argument around whether the City should allocate funding from the general fund to support the Department of Cultural Affairs has been put to rest. However, should a decline in tourism occur, so does the Department’s revenue. Should tourism experience an increase, in theory, so will the Department’s budget.
Governor Brown’s effort to eliminate statewide redevelopment agencies is creating an uncertain future for Cultural Affairs departments tied to community redevelopment (including those in Long Beach and Culver City). Others, like Pasadena, are working internally to mitigate cuts to grant programs. Stay tuned for more information on the other cities as it becomes available.
School Districts face an even more dire situation. As the state continues to grapple with a $24 billion deficit, sweeping cuts to social services, infrastructure and education challenge district officials to deliver basic, barebones public education. We all know that public education at its current levels does not prepare a significant percentage of our population to compete in a 21st century workforce.
Public school funding comes from the state based on Average Daily Attendance. This funding is augmented by federal funding (Title I & Title II) and, when possible, by grants from private foundations. However, as the quality of public education continues to decline, many parents are choosing to either enroll their child in a charter school, or, if they have the financial means, in a private school. Lower enrollment reduces the ADA, which decreases funding, resulting in an even more substandard public education system. It’s a vicious cycle without an easy solution.
State Deficit. Governor Brown’s tax extensions plan failed to win the support needed to pass in the legislature (it would have required four Republican votes, two in the Assembly and two in the Senate). As a result, school boards and district officials are preparing to implement doomsday budgets, further exacerbating the underfunded delivery system.
Coalition Building. Despite this gloomy news, there is an exciting coalition forming at the state level to push for the tax extensions to get on the November 2011 ballot. On May 24th, Educate our State is organizing rallies in cities across the state to draw attention to this critical issue. As the plight of public education is, at the moment, a primarily state-level issue, it’s vital that we support this coalition that has already generated 60,000 letters to state legislators.
Advocates are making strides in maintaining cultural infrastructure in the County, which is the overarching goal of Arts for LA’s Policy Framework for the next two years. We are branching out and partnering with other statewide and local quality-of-life coalitions to bolster the impact arts and arts education has on the quality of life for all residents. We are present at Committee meetings and Budget hearings, and are scheduling one-on-one meetings with key leaders, who appreciate hearing from constituents and encourage our advocates to keep voicing support for arts and arts education.
Remaining strategic and nimble is one of our best defenses in the ever-shifting landscape of public funding for the arts and arts education. In just four short years, this coalition has created a new model for local advocacy. That “we” includes you: over 150 organizations, 100 individual members, a dedicated board, staff and a 20,000-strong network of informed advocates who care about the health, vitality and cultural ecology of our region.
The energy fueling this robust advocacy effort continues to make great strides. Let's keep our eyes on the prize to ensure that every community has equitable access to quality arts education and cultural experiences.