Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Teacher: Cuts to arts education are a 'great tragedy'

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

At Peary Middle School in Gardena, visual arts teacher Valerie Davidson teaches drawing and painting to about 175 students. She is the only arts teacher in a school of nearly 2,000 students.

"Less than 30 percent of the kids in school have access to the arts," Davidson said Monday at the RIF notice hearings at California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles. She said such scenarios have become more common as the district has cut arts over the last five years.

"The tragedy is I’m the only art teacher for these kids, these 2,000 kids," Davidson said. And if cuts continue, "I may be the only arts teacher they have in their entire life. That’s a great tragedy."

Davidson has worked for L.A. Unified for 11 years and received her first preliminary pink slip notice in March. 

"They've cut 85 percent of the arts in three years in LAUSD," Davidson said. "That means 15 percent of the arts is left. What is the arts capital of the world? Los Angeles. It's such an insult."

The L.A. Unified budget plan approved in March includes major cuts to adult and early education as well as elementary arts programs. The plan provides no funding for its winning Academic Decathlon program, marching band and outdoor education.

"The arts reach kids that fall between the cracks, the arts speak to kids that fall between the cracks," Davidson said. "...So what's [these cuts] doing? It's the rich and the poor. That's it."

"...To not have any music, to not have any theater, to not have visual arts, all those fun things. Dance. These kids desperately need these things. Otherwise they're just sitting on their little butts. And it's all about test test test. These are little kids. This is why they hate school. And this is why the drop out rate is so high."

Davidson, who is on the UTLA Arts Education Committee, said she hoped to speak Monday about the cuts to arts education but was not called up. She can't continue to use personal days to attend the hearings so she will probably not end up testifying.

Because there are no test scores for the arts, Davidson said they are disproportionately affected by cuts.

"People study, they invest thousands and thousands of dollars and sweat and toil years to become a teacher," Davidson said. "It's a very difficult job. Who would want to go through this any more. You cannot have any financial stability. Teachers work really hard, I don't think the public understands."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).