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Three Years In, Los Angeles Arts Education Push Has Mixed Results

Three years after the Los Angeles Unified School District named arts as a core subject, students at approximately 100 elementary schools still don't get any arts instruction.  

Southern California Public Radio reports that the district has made efforts to increase funding, hire more teachers, and launch a series of arts festivals. But universal arts education remains elusive, especially for the district's poorest students.

In 2012, the district's board approved a measure that bolstered arts funding and deemed it a "core subject." It was greeted with significant fanfare.

In early 2015, the district released the results of a survey called the "Arts Equity Index" that described where students were and weren't receiving various kinds of arts programs. (Check out the L.A. School Report's reporting on the findings.) Many of the schools with the least arts programming were attended mainly by students living in poverty. 

The district redistributed funds and teachers this year to remedy some of the disparities. 

Southern California Public Radio found that some schools were thrilled about the redistribution of arts programs and teachers. One middle school had a state-of-the-art auditorium but had never hosted a show. But others felt the changes disrupted long-established programs and would reduce the rigor and depth of some arts offerings. 

Meanwhile, district officials still say they have barely a third of what they need to create a full arts plan for all district schools.

Improving equity in arts education is a focus of the National Endowment for the Arts, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. The NEA has found that millions of students don't have access to arts programs. But other districts are also taking steps to acknowledge and address the issue: The NEA told Education Week that the school district in Austin, Texas is in the early stages of conducting a survey similar to Los Angeles' equity index. 

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