Rick Middleton, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 572, had a chance to sit down recently with former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. Mr. Beutner is leading a statewide ballot initiative to significantly increase funding for Arts and Music in public schools. This measure will provide an almost $1 billion increase in annual, ongoing funding for public schools across the state, without raising taxes. This will be in addition to the school funds provided by Prop 98. Teamsters Local 572 has endorsed the ballot measure and contributed to the campaign to help make sure it passes.
Middleton: Time flies—It’s been almost a year since you stepped down as LAUSD Superintendent. What have you been doing with your time?
Beutner: I started by taking a much-needed break last July to spend some time with my family. Three years of 15-hour days, 7 days a week takes its toll.
But I don’t idle well and by the end of last summer, it was back to work. I’ve been able to spend more time helping Vision To Learn, a non-profit organization I started 10 years ago, which provides free eye exams and glasses to children in low-income communities. Vision To Learn operates in more than 500 cities across the country and recently launched new efforts in Washington, D.C., Charleston, SC and Hartford, CT. We’ll reach a big milestone shortly when the 60,000th student in LA Unified is provided with an eye exam. And almost 50,000 of those children have received glasses. That’s the result of lots of hard work by Vision To Learn staff along with school teams from LA Unified, including many Teamsters members.
But most of my time has been spent on getting this arts and music initiative started and making sure it is on the November 2022 ballot.
Middleton: Tell us why this matters so much to you.
Beutner: I visited hundreds of schools while Superintendent and during every visit I would ask school leaders, teachers, families and students what I could do to help their school. Invariably, the response included “We want more arts and music for our students.”
But unfortunately, that led to an awful conversation about addition by subtraction. “More art, means less math…and adding dance means less science” and so on. The funding just wasn’t available. The harsh reality is public schools in Los Angeles and throughout the state have suffered from inadequate funding for decades. That’s led to cuts in many vital programs, including arts and music.
This one’s personal for me. 5th grade, February 1972, my first day at a new school, the 4th different school I had attended since kindergarten, my concern wasn’t the cold weather nor English or Math, it was who was I going to have lunch with that day. Fortunately, a music teacher invited me to join his lunchtime class. I found something to eat, a group of friends and a sense of belonging. Over time, cello became bass and bass became guitar. My confidence grew and I could perform in front of thousands of people before I could speak in front of tens of them. My life changed because I was able to participate in a music class.
Middleton: What will the measure do?
Beutner: This effort will accomplish the following:
A recent commentary in EdSource provides a good summary about the need, https://edsource.org/2022/addressing-the-crisis-in-arts-and-music-education-in-california/664798. If more than 50% of voters approve the measure, it will become law. The additional funding will be provided to schools beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
The lack of funding for arts and music education is not just a California problem, it’s a national problem. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a call to action in a compelling report entitled Arts for Life’s Sake: The Case for Arts Education, https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/2021-Art-for-Lifes-Sake.pdf. The report makes clear the many benefits for children who participate in arts and music at school. It also explains how arts education was already in a state of crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic and says that the time to act is now. California is leading the way.
Middleton: How’s the effort going?
Beutner: Quite well. We collected more than 1 million signatures with the support of volunteers from across the state, well in excess of the 623,200 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November 8, 2022, California ballot.
The ballot measure will receive an official number designation, like “Proposition 1,” by the middle of July when the verification of signatures is completed.
Middleton: Who’s involved with the effort?
Beutner: We have a diverse and growing coalition of educators, artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs along with business, labor and community organizations.
A group of them recently published an open letter in the NY Times about why they are supporting the ballot initiative, https://voteartsandmusic.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ArtsAndMusic_OpenLetter-Vote-Headline-NYT_051022-For-Launch.pdf.
It’s quite a list and many of them will be part of our campaign effort in the coming months as we remind voters to “Vote Yes for Arts and Music” on November 8.
Middleton: Why should voters support this?
Beutner: This initiative will address the lack of equity and access in arts education. Every student in California will benefit with additional funding provided to schools which serve families who are struggling to get by, in particular Black and Latino students. To put the effort in perspective, this will lead to the largest investment in arts and music education in our nation’s history.
We can create a brighter future for public school children in California and make sure the workforce in media, technology and entertainment better reflect the diversity in our schools.
We hope people across California will join the movement. This is the feel-good story of 2022!
Middleton: What can Teamsters members do to help?
Beutner: It starts with any person’s 1st amendment right. They can and should feel free to express their views on public issues, including a ballot measure like this. Make sure your friends and neighbors know about this as well.
In a school setting, one needs to be careful about using school resources, but it’s okay to make school families aware about the opportunity and what it will mean to your school community. Voters can decide for themselves once they are better informed about the measure.
And it’s also important to note both Teamsters Local 572 and the Los Angeles Unified School Board have endorsed the measure.
Middleton: Austin, thank you for your time and thanks for your leadership on this. Teamster members who have questions about this initiative or wish to get more involved, can visit www.voteartsandmusic.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org .