California School District Expands Art Education with $15 Million Budget

In July 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that shifted the spending decisions in California’s school districts to the local level. The intention was to allow districts to target disadvantaged students in ways that benefit their specific needs.

In a bold move, the Chula Vista school district has taken their portion of the budget and applied it towards an aggressive expansion of the district’s art program. During the summer leading up to 2015-16 school year, the district hired nearly 60 new art teachers. About a dozen positions are still unfilled.

This expansion comes at a time when the Chula Vista school district was starved of arts education as it began turning the focus towards STEM and language arts education. This resulted in significant improvements in those test scores, but the arts suffered with only four art teachers in the entire district.

In 2010, the culture began to shift when the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory started an after school program. They partnered with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and La Jolla Playhouse to begin developing music programs in California schools.

When the funding control was given to the districts, the Chula Vista district began their planning. The desire to improve the arts program in the face of existing success in STEM and language arts met some opposition, so the schools began talking to parents.

Parents were not initially interested in the expansion of the art program. John Nelson, former assistant district superintendent, chose to push forward and fight for developing arts education in the Chula Vista district anyway. Parents were on board once they saw how successful the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory programs were. Once parents were on board, the Chula Vista district began the process of hiring new art teachers.

Now that the school year has begun, students are responding well to the new art classes. Rhythm classes being taught to kindergartners are expanding the minds of young students, proving the investment was well worth it.