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Schools in need to get more LAUSD arts funding

Some Los Angeles Unified students in poorer schools are short-changed when it comes to art education, according to preliminary results from a new survey of school principals released Wednesday.

Using information from the survey, arts education branch officials ranked schools based on the level of arts instruction available to their students and released lists of the top "underserved" and "excelling" schools in the district. 

School board District 3 and District 5, which include west San Fernando Valley, Los Feliz, East Los Angeles and Eagle Rock, have half of the 20 schools listed as the most underserved. 

"What we find ourselves doing sometimes is putting the fewest amount of dollars in the schools where the students need it the most," Rory Pullens, head of arts education, said during a "State of the Arts" event hosted by the nonprofit Arts for LA at Berendo Middle School.

RELATED: Confusion reigns as LAUSD flip flops arts education plans

The survey is forming the basis of an "arts equity index," with each LAUSD school assigned a ranking according to such factors as the number of arts classes it offers. About 635 schools responded to the survey. 

The district plans to use the survey results to direct arts funding to schools based on need rather than on student enrollment as has been past practice. 

The survey found broad problems with the amount of arts instruction offered to district students. Sixty percent of the district's elementary schools are at an "emerging" ranking or lower level for arts offerings, a term used by district officials to describe the quality of art classes and other programs. Just 13 elementary schools out of 433 completing the survey made the district's highest "excelling" category. 

Board member Bennett Kayser, who represents District 5 where schools are among the most underserved, attended the event. Kayser called for mixing the arts into lessons on other subjects and supporting district art teachers.

"I like art," he said. "I don’t think the kids get enough of it."

Students from Berendo Middle School performed a hip-hop dance for those at the event.

Dance student and 8th-grader Oscar Rodriguez said art makes school more fun and helped him grow socially.

"I used to be shy and I didn't like to dance in front of people," he said. "I'm not that shy no more."

The district has been working to improve arts instruction for several years. In October 2012, the school board voted to approve the arts as a core subject, and instructed officials to vastly increase arts instruction and exposure for the district's students.

But the district has struggled to maintain momentum on that commitment, in part because of a lack of resources. Many aspects of a 2013 arts plan have yet to be implemented. 

The district signaled a renewed commitment to arts education with the hiring of Pullens, who joins the district from a well-known arts school in Washington, D.C. He began work with Los Angeles Unified last summer.

"Though we may have been a little slow moving, we are ready to launch into moving forward in arts education," he said.

Parent Paul Robak attended the event to get a better feel for how serious Pullens is about improving arts education in the district. Robak said he was partially satisfied, but would wait and see whether Pullens can produce results.

"I just hope he walks the talk. I'm going to be expecting big things in arts education," Robak said. "It's easy to be cynical because if you've been in the position as a parent, over a number of years, you see arts disappearing but you don't see the core subjects disappearing and you have to wonder what's going on."

Pullens said he planned to continue private fundraising to help boost funding for the arts in the schools. Major benefit concerts are in the works, but he didn't say who would be performing.

Plans are also in the works to harness federal funding for low-income students, and to allow teachers to shift their schedules to increase arts instruction during zero and seventh periods that take place before and after school. 

KPCC reported last year that 87 percent of district elementary schools would not be offering comprehensive access to the arts in the 2014-2015 school year in violation of California law.

The California education code requires school districts to teach all children all four art forms every year from 1st to 6th grade — but it lacks a way to enforce the law or impose penalties for violations.