SAN MARCOS — It’s a good time to be a student interested in art, music and dance in the San Marcos Unified School District, as local schools reap the benefits of new state funding under Proposition 28.
This is the first year that schools have received additional funding under Prop 28, or the Arts and Music in Schools Funding Guarantee and Accountability Act, since voters passed it in the 2022 General Election.
In the 2023-24 school year, San Marcos Unified received a state allotment of $2.7 million, which allowed the district to hire dozens of new full-time equivalent instructors for subjects like music, dance, drama, visual arts like ceramics, and digital media.
Matt Armstrong, the district’s Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, described the impact of these funds at the school board’s Jan. 11 meeting.
“When I received this information, I was speechless. This kind of money, this sort of dedication to the arts — I was at a complete loss for words. I know that this money, in the grand scheme of things, is not a lot, but for us, it’s absolutely game-changing,” Armstrong said.
Of the total annual funding, which must be used within three years, 80% is for credentialed and classified employees, 19% for professional learning and supplies, and 1% goes to administrative expenses. The allocation is expected to be around the same amount in the coming years, allowing the district to maintain newly hired positions.
For individual schools, Mission Hills and San Marcos high schools received around $419,000 and $461,000 in funding, respectively, to support various arts and music programs. Armstrong said that the smaller Twin Oaks High School received just over $37,000, part of which will go toward a new kiln for the ceramics program.
Depending on the site, funding allotments for each of the district’s 10 elementary schools range from $88,000 to $155,000. While funding for elementary arts has been precarious in past years due to budget cuts, these Prop 28 funds add stability for areas like theater and music.
“Historically, we’ve taken a backseat to other core subjects,” Armstrong said. “We are now able to run our elementary programs without the risk of them being eliminated, which is amazing.”
However, in particular, visual arts continue to be a “glaring omission” at elementary schools. Armstrong said he hopes to address this going forward by securing additional grants and reigniting the Arts Reinforcing Curriculum initiative, which seeks to blend visual arts into other subjects.
At local middle schools, funding per site ranges from around $147,000 to $180,000. Armstrong said the district is looking for ways to share visual and performing arts teachers between school sites, noting that hiring a full-time teacher for each middle school is unrealistic.
This is partially due to the current middle school schedule, which allows students to pick just one elective each year.
“As we think about our middle school redesign, part of that process is the types of courses we want to be able to add, but that will be directly dependent on the schedule that we create for our middle schools,” said Deputy Superintendent Tiffany Campbell.
Board members expressed excitement about the new funding and the opportunities it will provide students.
“I feel like the arts, theater, and music save lives. It really does, and it makes you feel like you’re included, and you’re seen, and you’re heard,” said Board President Carlos Ulloa.
Trustee Stacy Carlson expressed concerns that some schools, like San Elijo and Double Peak, have more visual and performing arts resources than others and wondered whether some schools receive more.
Armstrong noted that many of these resources are part of after-school programs by parent-teacher organizations and Prop 28 funding can only be used for programming during the school day.
Looking ahead, the district is already making plans for its visual and performing arts needs in the 2024-25 school year in anticipation of the next round of Prop 28 funding. Armstrong said he is focused on creating a program that can continue to grow and endure.
“I want to make sure we don’t throw things in place that are not sustainable,” Armstrong said. “I’m truly excited about where all of this is going.”