Why a District Arts Plan Still Matters

The Challenge: How to build a district wide arts program starting now.

The Strategy: A district arts plan builds broad support and maps a path for incremental, but sustained growth.

The Story: California’s state education code requires that students receive K-12 instruction in visual arts, music, theater and dance. Yet, during years of tough financial times, many schools were forced to cut their arts programs. During the lean years, advocates in Orange County (OC) undertook a systematic effort to pass district arts plans that means as new funding comes in, both a commitment and a plan are in already place.

According to Pat Wayne, who shepherded many plans into being in her work for Arts Orange County and the California Alliance for Arts Education, “The strength of this approach for advocacy lies in the fact that the district has a blueprint to follow and advocacy efforts can be very specific rather than a general ask. With the need for arts education so vast, many district administrators do not know where to start – a good plan, gives them a map that follows best practice and the community advocates simply have to be an encourager for the next step.”

The Insider’s Guide to Arts Education Planning

Today 19 of OC’s 28 school districts have adopted an arts plan using a template originated by the California Department of Education in partnership with the California Alliance for Arts Education called The Insider’s Guide to Arts Education Planning. Together they created a facilitation model in 2006 that required each district to assemble a team of 25-30 community members and educators who committed to up to three full days in order to draft the plan. Since that time, TCAP (the California Arts Project) has now taken the lead in implementing this facilitation model.

While the model allows each district to individualize their plan by meeting them where they are, the facilitator keeps the team on track with best practice. Most plans address the following areas: Arts Curriculum, Professional Development for Teachers, VAPA administration, Facilities, Materials/Resources and Community Partnerships.

At the end of this process, the plan must be presented to and adopted by the school board so that it is legitimately embraced. But just as important to its success are the parents and community leaders, whose participation on the planning team build ownership in the plan and create accountability for the district to follow through. Districts that were unable to include community members (a recommendation from the Insider’s Guide) and had only educators involved were more likely to find their plans shelved.

LCFF, LCAP & Why an arts plan still matters

With the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and an allocation of new funding for high needs students, districts have a unique opportunity to realize their arts plans in a systematic way. In partnership with parents and community members, each district must author maintain a three-year Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) that maps our goals, metrics and funding allocations. Rather than creating a competing planning process, LCFF requires districts to consult their arts plan and school site plans and reflect those in the LCAP.

“In some cases, districts are taking language right from an existing arts plan and dropping it into their LCAP.” says Pat Wayne.

With incremental funding increases promised over the next seven years through the Local Control Funding Formula, districts can increase the number and quality of arts offerings systematically, using the district arts plan as a map. 82% of OC districts have written arts into their LCAP and are investing $26,898,000 over 3 next years.

Getting Started

La Habra is the 18th school district in Orange County to create an art plan. A well-respected PTA parent leader was able to secure a meeting with the district Superintendent and discuss the possibility of an arts plan. Over the course of an entire school year, she continued to keep in touch and offer her support. It was at the end of that year that the Superintendent assembled her team to create the strategic arts plan. The plan was facilitated by TCAP coordinator Helena Hanna and OCDE VAPA coordinator, Jim Thomas.

A district arts plan does not signal the end of advocacy, but districts with a plan and supporters in place are well positioned to succeed.