My View: Portland, let's embrace the arts tax
Misperceptions about the arts tax continue to persist in some quarters around the city. One media outlet recently stated incorrectly that the administrative cost, which is a necessary part of any tax, was diminishing the amount of money that goes to arts education in the form of hiring arts teachers for grades K-5.
The reality is that of all the money collected (some $10 million currently), nearly $7 million has been collected to pay for those additional teachers. This is based on a formula that provides funds for the schools to have an arts teacher in every K-5 school as stipulated in the ballot measure. In the five years since the inception of the tax, the schools have been fully funded.
After five years of annual, detailed reporting by the Arts Oversight Committee, the data shows there are now 92 arts teachers in the six Portland school districts compared to 31 prior to the tax. In addition, the ratio of students to arts teachers, which was 997:1 before the tax, is now 381:1, well below the requirement of 500:1. The evidence also indicates that school districts are carrying arts curriculum forward to all grades beyond K-5, making for a greater coordinated effort for children of all ages.
Unfortunately, because of adjustments made early on by the City Council and compliance rates that have not yet peaked, the arts tax has not fulfilled its goal of providing sufficient funding for the arts via grants to arts institutions, minority arts organization and individual artists that are distributed through the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC). As the ballot measure stipulated, funding was to be provided to the schools first with the remaining collections after expenses going to RACC. This is in fact what has been happening for the past five years.
Passed by 62 percent of the voters in 2012, the Arts Education and Access Fund (arts tax) was designed to bring arts teachers to all our K-5 students, help our cherished arts institutions with their operational needs and to provide funding for access grants to small organizations and projects, primarily in underserved and often neglected communities.
Since its inception, The Oregonian has frequently expressed its displeasure with the arts tax while not recognizing that countless children across our entire city are now benefiting from access to an arts education, many for the first time. Observing a little boy exploring his imagination and taking pride in creating his first painting, or the little girl learning to play an instrument and delighting in its sound, speaks volumes.
Especially since the Oregon Supreme Court has now ruled that the arts tax is legal after many challenges to it, let's embrace the impact the arts tax has had in supporting our kids and the arts community, all of which is essential to the wellbeing of our city. Arts and culture speak to the heart, soul and spirit of a community. While the arts contribute significantly to economic development, they also foster community, creativity, innovation and pride. This is indeed something to hold dear.