California Assembly votes to further dilute arts as a high school requirement

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California arts advocates suffered their third and worst legislative shutout in less than two months Wednesday as the Assembly voted 76 to 0 in favor of a bill that would allow more students to skip arts instruction entirely during their high school years.

To earn a diploma now, students have to take at least one yearlong course in arts or a foreign language. If the bill, AB 2446, passes the state Senate and is signed into law by the governor, students, starting in the 2011-12 school year, will be able to substitute a “career technical education” course for arts or a language. The bill has a ‘sunset’ provision, meaning the change would be temporary, staying in effect for five academic years before expiring in mid-2016.
Its author, Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) says in a statement on his website that “the intent … is to increase high school graduation rates, which is an ever-pressing issue.”

By allowing students to take a technical course rather than arts or a language, backers say, teens aiming for immediate full-time jobs rather than college will be better prepared for them. Meanwhile, they say, being able to use a technical course to graduate, rather than arts or a language, could prompt some potential dropouts to stay and earn a diploma.

Laurie Schell, executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, said Wednesday that her group’s so-far fruitless lobbying will continue with state senators. In April, the Assembly Education Committee voted for Furutani’s bill, 8 to 0, and last week the Appropriations Committee approved it, 17 to 0.


Furutani launched his political career in 1987, when he became the first Asian American elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District board, where he served until 1996.

Part of the effort against the change, Schell said, will be to present data showing that “there’s a tremendous overlap” in skills learned in arts classes and those required for technical fields that students not on a college track might enter.

Students applying to the University of California or the Cal State systems are required to have at least a year of high school arts. Schell said that local school districts have the authority to set graduation standards that are higher than the statewide minimum requirement Furutani’s bill would change, and the Los Angeles Unified School District is among those that make a year of visual or performing arts mandatory.

When Furutani proposed a similar bill last year, it died in the Appropriations Committee. However, it was friendlier to arts education and foreign language instruction than the one now moving through the Legislature. Instead of being able to substitute technical training for arts or a language, last year’s bill called for making graduation requirements more stringent for all students. Instead of opting for arts or a foreign language, students could add technical education to the mix – but they would have to take a course in at least two of the three categories.

-- Mike Boehm

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