Supes Adopt California Declaration of Kids’ Rights to Equal Access to Arts Education

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt the state’s Declaration of Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning.

“Particular groups of students experience significant barriers to access, participation and success in arts learning and that these barriers are directly linked to historical, persistent and pervasive inequities in our educational system,” Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis state in their motion.

California’s statewide arts education coalition, known as Create CA, authored the declaration, which says that all students—“regardless of race, culture, language, religion, national origin, place of residence, socio-economic, or legal status”—have a right to quality arts programs.

Kuehl and Solis’s motion extends the rights put forth in the declaration to all Los Angeles County students.

“We want to make sure that the life-changing power of the arts is within the reach of every LA student,” Supervisor Kuehl said.

Arts are a “critical and fundamental” part of the educational experience for young people, added Supervisor Solis. “Through arts learning, students build the necessary social, analytical, and creative skills needed to excel in the workplace.” Arts, too, bring enrich and bring together communities, Solis said. “I am proud to join the State of California in our mission to bring the arts to every corner of the County.”

A handful of school districts have adopted the Create CA declaration, but LA County is the first municipality to do so, according to the supervisors. Several other counties have made improvements to their arts education based on Create CA’s work, however.

Making the first move puts LA “on the cutting edge,” according to Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Hopefully the rest of the country will look to us for leadership,” Hahn said.

While state law requires school districts to teach students in grades K-12 music, theater, dance, and visual art, the law is not enforced, and many students across California go without quality arts education.

A study issued by the LA County Arts Education Collective last December revealed that at least some arts instruction was offered in nearly all LA County public schools (89.6 percent of elementary schools and 92.7 percent of secondary schools) during the school day between 2015 and 2017. The supervisors attribute the high numbers, which surprised some advocates, with the Arts Education Collective that the board established in 2002, as part of the Los Angeles County Regional Blueprint for Arts Education. The supes meant this project to increase access to high-quality arts education for the county’s students.

“Fifteen years later, the Arts Ed Collective includes 68 of the County’s 81 school districts, five charter school networks, more than 100 arts organizations and teaching artists, dozens of funding partners and hundreds of community advocates working collaboratively to advance arts education in all LA County schools,” according to Kuehl and Solis’s motion.

This powerful collective, says Supervisor Hahn, “can empower educators, leaders, and community members to help develop this cross-cultural awareness with our students,” and “can empower students from historically under-represented communities, like our foster youth, our students of color, our special needs students, and others.”

While access to arts education was widespread throughout the county, the collective’s report did find schools with larger populations of youth of color, low-income students, and English-learners offered “less arts instruction and lesser quality instruction.”

Research shows that improved outcomes for students who have access to the arts. A report from the National Endowment for the Arts revealed that students from the lowest quarter of socioeconomic status who had access to arts education—in or after school—had better academic outcomes, were more likely to go to college, had better job opportunities, and were more likely to vote, volunteer in their communities, and participate in other civic-minded activities.

The collective, and the county supervisors hope to remedy these inequities in arts education. Tuesday’s declaration is one step toward that goal.

The Rights

The declaration’s six rights state that:

– Every student has the right to free, coherent and sequential standards-based arts learning that is part of preK-12 curriculum and provides both integrated and discrete visual and performing arts learning opportunities, as well as the right to equitable outcomes as a result of this arts learning.

– Every student has the right to fully develop their creative, artistic and aesthetic potential, as well as the right to special protection from policies and practices that exclude or preclude certain students or populations from equitable access to powerful and coherent arts learning preK-12.

– Every student has the right to arts learning that is culturally and linguistically responsive and relevant, and which pays particular attention to those populations that have traditionally been excluded or precluded, such as English learners, students of color, foster youth, homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, those living in poverty, migrant students and special needs students.

– Every student has the right to participate in arts learning in schools, districts and communities that are properly funded and supported with the necessary resources – including qualified administrators, teachers, teaching artists and other staff; adequate materials; and appropriate facilities – to support powerful culturally and linguistically responsive arts learning.

– Every student has the right to educators, leaders and parents/community who are knowledgeable about the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of arts learning for individual students, families/ communities, the nation and global society.

– Every student has the right to be brought up in school and community environments that value and protect the arts as essential to the full development of each student and that demonstrate those values/ beliefs in their public policies and practices.

The motion declares these rights “essential” for all children in LA County.

“This is a particularly critical time for us to recognize the healing transcendence of the arts,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “With the White House threatening public support for the arts, LA County is affirming the fact that the arts play a vital role in every person’s life. The poet Thomas Merton wrote, ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’”

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