Kevin, thanks for the kind introduction and thank you for your support.
This effort has been a dream of mine for a long time. The young woman in the video, Eliana —that was me in 5th grade. On a snowy day in Michigan, 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 play in front of thousands of people before I could speak in front of tens of them.
Roll the clock forward about 50 years to early in my time as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified and a visit to the music class of Sean Longstreet at Walnut Park Middle School, which serves a community of very low-income families, about 99% Latino.
The students played their guitars while serenading me with the song “Stand by Me.” It was amazing—they were present in the most powerful sense of the word. Together, happy, engaged, and at least for a bit, free from all of the anxiety that comes with the teenage years.
Sean had worked hard to get a grant from Save the Music to buy the guitars and start the class. But there were only 30 students in the room. We wound up talking a great deal about the need to provide opportunities like this for every child in every school.
Unfortunately, the conversation quickly became one about addition by subtraction. Adding music would have to mean less of something else. Less of what? Math? Reading? PE? That makes no sense.
The ugly truth is there’s a staggering lack of adequacy in funding for arts and music education in California public schools. Let me give you some context. In 2019, New York schools received in excess of $30,000 a year per student for everything that happens at school while in Los Angeles that figure was closer to $17,000. Yet Los Angeles schools have a greater portion of students from families living in poverty than New York, a higher percentage of students with learning differences and disabilities and many more English learners. By any reasonable standard, Los Angeles schools should be receiving more funding than New York, not 40% less.
The visit to Sean’s classroom was still dancing around in my head a few months later when I paid a visit to Andy Mooney at Fender. We started exploring an idea about providing guitars to every middle school student in L.A. schools.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later brought COVID-19 and the biggest crisis schools have faced in a long time. Once we made sure that everybody had a warm meal, that all students and their families had the computer and internet access they needed to stay connected with their school community, and that everyone—teachers, staff, students and their families—had access to quick, free and reliable COVID tests, we turned our attention to how we could keep students engaged with their school community during such challenging times.
Together, we and Fender created teacher-led music classes which have provided more than 10,000 middle school students with a free guitar and lessons. Others stepped up as well. Snapchat along with Alicia Keyes and Russell Westbrook helped us create a book club. We worked with Jimmy lovine and Dr. Dre to create a new high school to provide a pathway for students from South L.A. to attend the lovine and Young Academy at USC. George Clooney pulled together a team of filmmakers to be part of a high school which will prepare students for a career making films and TV shows. James Cameron helped high school science teachers create a class which takes students on a voyage on the Titanic while working on literacy, math and critical-thinking skills. And you’ll hear more in a bit how we worked with the talented team at ILLUMINATION to create a class for middle school students about animation and storytelling.
But the problem still remains—barely 1 in 5 public schools in California have a full-time arts or music program. To fix that, schools must have adequate, ongoing funding for teachers and staff and everything else they need to create programs in the arts.
Which brings us to today’s exciting news. This November, Californians will have the opportunity to approve a ballot measure which will solve this problem.
The initiative will improve the lives of 6 million children in public schools across California by making sure they have access to Arts and Music Education at school. This ballot measure will accomplish a great deal:
The Arts and Music in Public Schools Ballot Measure has collected more than 1 million signatures with the support of volunteers from across the state, well in excess of the 623,212 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November 8, 2022 California ballot.
Signatures have been submitted in each of the 58 counties across California. The ballot measure will receive an official number designation by the middle of July when the verification of signatures is completed.
Our coalition includes leaders in education, the arts and entertainment along with community and labor organizations. There are too many people involved with this effort to thank each of them individually, but please know we appreciate your support.
It’s going to take all of us working together to make sure voters in California know how this will make a difference and why they should vote “yes” on November 8th.
Participation in the arts gives children a sense of belonging and leads to better attendance at school. Creative arts help build capability in literacy, math and critical thinking. And, at a time like this, the benefit of arts to children’s social and emotional well-being is profound.
Today you’ll hear from a few people who’ll explain why this matters to them.
Please take a look at this short clip my friends at Fender pulled together which features a couple of members of the coalition who happened to join me in music classes a while back.
Lester Holt clearly has a passion for music, but his job prevents him from taking a position on ballot measures like this.
But Jason Mamoa is a supporter. And we’re pleased to be joined today by Max Arias from SEIU whose colleagues work in schools in Los Angeles and across the state. He told me his goal one day is to work with students and teach music.
We are also fortunate to have with us a group of women and men who work in good paying jobs in schools, media, technology and entertainment.
Richard Bowers, who makes sure all 2,000 students at this school are served wonderful meals every day.
Lourdes Garcia, President & General Counsel, Teamsters Local 572.
Sidney Hopson is a member of AFM Local 47. He’s an artist who’s performed at the Academy Awards and with the L.A. Philharmonic and L.A. Opera.
Rick Middleton, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 572 and a proud product of public schools here in Los Angeles.
Nery Paiz, President, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, comprised of school principals and other leaders.
Ralph Rivera from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. That set on the stage on a TV show—he’s helped make it look special.
Barbara Roberts from Actors Equity Association.
Naomi Sato, also from AFM, is another proud product of local public schools. Her music has been in more than 30 films and TV shows.
The creative industry is the largest employer in California—from sound technicians and cinematographers to script writers and animators to costume and makeup artists and set designers and builders. It’s not just the stars on the stage or screen, it truly takes a village to create and share the stories from Hollywood and Motown with people around the world. I want to thank all of the labor partners who are supporting this effort.
When this measure passes, a beautiful thing will happen when we create opportunity for a truly diverse group of students from public schools to find good paying jobs in the creative industry.
I look forward to working with all of you to help turn this dream into a reality. Please join the movement and Vote Arts and Music.