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There's more arts education in LA than you might expect, but not for everyone

FILE: Denise Grande, head of the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective, presents about the group's Arts Education Innovation Lab at the California Endowment headquarters on October 6, 2017. Carla Javier/KPCC

More arts education is being offered to more students than previously assumed – 89.6 percent of elementary schools–and 92.7 percent of secondary schools–offer at least some arts instruction during the school day to students. 

That's according to the Los Angeles County Arts Commission's arts education arm's recently-released county-wide survey of schools and districts' arts education offerings. 

The findings were surprising to many advocates, given a common perception that the arts are often the first to go when schools have limited funds. 

"We now know with the data that is not the case," said Denise Grande, head of the LA County Arts Ed Collective. "If every parent or every stakeholder looks at what's happening in their neighborhood school, they can walk in from a place of strength and say, 'There are lots of other schools in our district that are doing this well. Let's look at those schools for examples of how that work can happen for my children in my school.'"

While the study didn't look into causes for the unexpectedly high number of arts education offerings, Grande said she thinks efforts by schools and districts to increase their arts offerings likely played a part.

"Some districts cut the arts. Many others did not," Grande explained. "And in the middle of that is this idea that over the past five years many districts have been working hard to increase what [arts instruction] was already in place."

Another possible explanation, according to Grande: increases in funding.

"We know that as more money has been flowing into the school system since Proposition 30 [a ballot measure that sent money to public schools]," Grande said. "Districts are continuing to look for ways to increase arts education."

While the survey demonstrated a surprisingly high level of arts instruction happening in LA County schools, there's still work to do.

The survey revealed deeply entrenched equity disparities for students of color, low-income students, and English language learners.

"They generally have less access to arts education, and the arts instruction that they are provided is at lower quality," Grande said.

Grande's collective aims to make it so that all students, in all schools in the county have access to quality arts instruction, like the way other subjects like science or social studies are taught.

"The hope is that over time we can put the arts back as a core piece of public education, where it is taught all year long to all students," Grande said.

To do so, they're getting creative. Last year, they launched an Innovation Lab to inspire and support prototypes of programs that could get arts education to more students. Those prototypes included VR experiences, having an art instructor teach english language learners, and building a mobile graffiti yard.

The collective also released an interactive, online tool with the arts education data. The tool allows anyone to search the data by district and school.