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LAUSD using new ‘equity index’ to restore arts to areas of need

Vanessa Romo | June 27, 2014

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Arts Education LAUSDThe plan to expand arts access for students across LA Unified and restore nearly $16 million in arts funding will include data gathered in a new Arts Equity Index, a tool to identify schools in greatest need of arts instruction.

School board member Steve Zimmer, who proposed the idea at the board meeting Tuesday, called it the most comprehensive arts inventory the district has ever taken.

To determine where arts programs are in greatest need, the Index will consider existing arts instruction at a school, proximity to arts centers or places that offer community based arts activities, and levels of poverty (among other factors which have not yet been defined). The results are intended to generate support in the form of district money, foundation grants, private donations and partnerships with local arts facilities.

“Until now access to arts education has been really about entitlement and luck,” Zimmer told LA School Report. “There are some rockstar arts programs that are concentrated in areas of high poverty, but you have other schools in areas of mid-range need that only get one hour of arts instruction a week.”

For example, schools in downtown LA, which are regarded as high needs campuses in most respects, have access to Inner City Arts, a non-profit arts education provider for many LA Unified schools. These schools, according to Zimmer, would fall to a lower position on the arts index.

The district is counting on incoming executive director of LA Unified’s arts education program, Rory Pullens, to implement the funding phase of the of the arts expansion plan.

Pullens was lured away from his post as the head of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. to “lead the effort to identify and design district-wide strategies to address areas of need in arts education; developing strategies to increase the number of students participating in arts education; and manages the arts education budget.”

Over eight years at Duke Ellington, Pullens raised millions of dollars for the school including $17.2 million endowment from the Eugene B. Casey Foundation to benefit the vocal and instrumental departments. He also founded a non-profit dedicated exclusively to raising funds for the school.

“We started programs like the Performance Series of Legends where I called upon top-tier entertainers including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Smoky Robinson and Earth, Wind, and Fire, to donate their time and services to raise money,” he told LA School Report.

“We can definitely do something similar in LA — it’s the entertainment capital of the world,” he said. “It’s not that people [here] are not willing to help but someone needs to articulate how there can be a beneficial relationship between the entertainment industry, the various artists in LA and students in schools.”

The adoption of the Arts Equity Index and the addition of Pullens as a high ranking district official reflect a major shift in the district’s approach to arts education. After years of brutal budget cuts that reduced funding by 76 percent to $18.6 million from a 2007 high of $78.6 million, the district appears to be shifting away from an arts integration instruction plan to one that champions discrete arts education.

Superintendent John Deasy is expected to finalize the Arts Equity Index formula in September and present actual index will be presented to the board in December.

“That gives us time to target the elementary and middle schools that need our help the most before the end of the year,” Zimmer said.

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