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 last November.
It is designed to supplement and support resources for K-12 classes that include dance, theater, and graphic design at all public school districts across the state. Without raising taxes, about $1 billion of the state budget is expected to be allocated annually.
San Diego Unified School District has already started spending Prop. 28 money on hiring new arts education teachers and expanding its long-established Visual and Performing Arts program, also known as VAPA.
At Encanto Elementary, the funding is making 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 of the visual elements that our world throws at them continuously," said Heather Gaunt. She was a core curriculum language arts teacher for 15 years, but painting is her passion, so she transitioned to the VAPA program.
Before Prop. 28, Gaunt taught just one art session per classroom every five weeks at Encanto. That frequency has been increasing under Prop. 28, and eventually, art class will happen every week.
The district purchased a new classroom set of iPads so every student can create visual art with a digital paintbrush which can lead to other forms of artwork.
Gaunt said it cultivates a natural tendency to create.
“I think early on, if it’s not fostered and allowed to have a space in which to just experiment and not have a right and wrong, then it can be squashed. Because (students can get) nervous ... that they're doing right or wrong with art," she said.
Gaunt also works with students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Lafayette Elementary in Clairemont Mesa, with the assistance of ASL interpreters.
The Lafayette campus is a specialized learning center for deaf students who come from all over San Diego County to receive services and their education.
"A lot of deaf kids have visual acuity that is really good. Some of them are really good artists and it's amazing what they can produce," said Annette Miner, a district deaf adult service interpreter who also manages programs involving school-age children.
The state budget allocation approved with Prop. 28 is guaranteed and cannot be used for anything but arts education. There is also the benefit of well-being for students.
“The arts do a lot for mental health. They do a lot for (everyone). They center us. They give students the opportunity to connect in different ways," said Russ Sperling, director of San Diego Unified’s VAPA program.
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 to the burgeoning creative arts economy and jobs."
The latest Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 study found nonprofit arts organizations add $1.3 billion to the local economy.
Monica Harris is another VAPA teacher who's seeing her schedule get busier.
She is a veteran dancer, theatre producer, teacher, and performing artist. Harris started as a substitute in 2013 and became a regular VAPA teacher in 2019, with sporadic visits to various schools.
“What they said to me, and to us as an artistic community, is 'what you have, we want you to pass this to our children.' So that the legacy of the arts, music, dance, theater, painting, film, and all this gets passed down to have another generation of artists."Monica Harris, VAPA teacher in the San Diego Unified School District
Now she is poised to teach more than 700 students at three different campuses this school year. Like other VAPA teachers, her schedule in each classroom is going from once a month to once a week in some cases.
"Be art smart!" is the mantra in her classroom.
Harris considers the voter's approval of Prop. 28 as a vote of confidence for her talent and teaching.
“What they said to me, and to us as an artistic community, is 'what you have, we want you to pass this to our children.' So that the legacy of the arts, music, dance, theater, painting, film, and all this gets passed down to have another generation of artists," Harris said.
Among the dancing and acting happening in classrooms across the district, there is also hope that the infusion of arts will lead to brighter futures with many more possibilities for students like 8-year-old Jade Robles, a third grader at Webster Elementary.
“It’s just really fun for me and I get entertained," she said about her art classes. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she responded, "Probably a police officer so I can save the world."