Yesterday the Portland Public Schools Board unanimously approved a budget for the 2013-14 school year that will ensure every Portland elementary school student in the district has access to an arts education. Just one year ago, 11,596 PPS students attended a school with no instruction in arts, music, dance or drama. And today there are still 16 PPS schools educating K-5 students without an art, music, dance or drama teacher. As the only school district in Portland with K-5 schools that do not include arts educators, closing this gap at PPS will effectively close the gap citywide. And with that gap closed, we can focus on increasing access to a K-12 arts education that includes every discipline (visual art, music, dance and drama). Today we celebrate PPS for using Arts Education & Access Fund dollars to ensure that every public elementary school student in Portland has access to an arts education.
With the Revenue Bureau reporting that Arts Tax collections are reaching $7,000,000, it is difficult not to get excited about all of the arts teachers and programs that Portland’s new Arts Education & Access Fund will support in the coming year. However, two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new tax nearly prevented Portland’s six school districts from including Arts Tax revenue in their 2013-14 budgets.
In March, Mayor Hales announced that the city could not distribute Arts Tax revenue to schools or arts organizations, as intended, because if the city were to lose either suit, the money might have to be given back to taxpayers. But that left Portlanders without the 70 elementary arts, music, dance and drama teachers that they have now paid for. And for many, this is an unacceptable consequence of two lawsuits that the city has said it will most likely win.
To his credit, Mayor Hales has proposed a solution – a risk sharing deal that Portland Public Schools was quick to accept. “The superintendents and I have been working to find a way to be true to the taxpayers, whose money this is, and to the voters, who approved the arts tax,” Hales said. “We think this does it.”
Under the Mayor Hales deal, roughly half of the $6 million originally budgeted to fund elementary arts teachers in Portland schools, will be distributed on time to Portland’s six school districts (Portland Public Schools, Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds and Riverdale). Of that $3 million disbursement, the risk will be split equally: $1 million from the city’s contingency fund; $1 million from future budget appropriations to the Regional Arts & Culture Council; and $1 million combined from the six school districts. The Portland Tribute reports that a bout two-thirds of the distribution is earmarked for PPS; one-third for the other districts. Each district will decide how it wants to spend the money which will be distributed in November. No further distribution is expected until favorable rulings or settlements have been reached in the law suits.
While agreements have not been finalized with every school district yet, the approval of the Portland Public Schools budget last night includes a staffing plan for at least 30 arts teachers serving every K-5 student district wide. This would not have been possible without the passage of the Arts Education & Access Fund and Mayor Hales’ short-term plan to guarantee its distribution.
“These decisions have been tough to reach, but it’s been a combined effort all along, and we’re grateful to the arts community and our school districts for working with us to find a practical solution. In the end, getting teachers in our classrooms will pay dividends for generations to come.”