A declaration for a student's right to arts education

Create CA shared the newly printed handbook with students and educators at an arts education summit April 29, 2017.
Create CA shared the newly printed handbook with students and educators at an arts education summit April 29, 2017.
Priska Neely/KPCC

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When the enrollment numbers started rolling into a statewide arts education database last year, researchers were caught off guard.

"We were struck by the inequity of participation and access to the arts in our state," said Pat Wayne, program director of Create CA, a statewide arts education coalition.

Create CA, in partnership with the state department of education, created an online database tracking arts instruction across the state. According to the records, only 26 percent of middle and high school students last school year had access to the level of arts instruction required by state law

California’s education code requires schools to give students access to music, theater, dance and visual art from first through twelfth grade. But it's not enforceable, and many districts aren't aware that it exists.

“We started talking about -- how do we animate this in a way that is powerful and emotional?” Wayne said.

Part of the answer the group came up with is a new tool to empower school districts to change those statistics.  The new Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning is part of the answer. It’s a series of six statements written in the student voice, addressing the right to high-quality courses, arts supplies, qualified teachers and more.

See the full declaration here or click below to hear Ashley Polanco and Julissa Aguilar, juniors at Belmont High School in Los Angeles, read it.

Create CA is urging school boards across the state to pass a resolution adopting the declaration and then dedicate resources to achieve it. The group has also developed model resolutions for school districts to use.

“It specifically calls out a number of things that the school board can do -- like create a strategic arts plan," said Wayne. "If they’re going to adopt this resolution – what’s the action steps to that? So it isn’t just a feel good piece of paper.”

Create CA hopes to get 100 school districts to adopt the declaration in the next year.

Moreno Valley Unified School District was the first to do so. School board member Jesus Holguin, also a member of the Create CA leadership team, wanted the district to adopt it right away.

“We can do this,” said Holguin. “We can adopt this declaration in the district and set the example for many others.”

Moreno Valley Unified has already made big investments in music education in recent years and is now in the process of developing a district arts plan. Holguin said this declaration will help his and other districts stay true to the commitment to the arts in years and budgets to come.  

“It is in writing. It has been presented to the community, the message has come straight from the students, so we need to move forward with this,” Holguin said. 

Rory Pullens, head of the Los Angeles Unified School District arts education branch, said he's aware of the declaration and will look for opportunities to share with students and the school board in the coming months.