After several years of deep budget cuts, programs to teach California public school students about the arts finally are getting a lift from the state. The new state budget, signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in June, supplies $105 million in annual funding for arts education and a one-time commitment of $500 million for arts, music, and physical education equipment.

To improve the availability and quality of arts education for California’s public school children—as well as create arts audiences for the future—is an emerging priority for the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. Last year, in collaboration with the Foundation’s Education, Regional Grants, and Special Projects programs, Performing Arts made $ 1.7 million in pilot grants to support this goal. The Foundation awarded grants for research, community organizing and policy advocacy, and demonstration programs to the research firm SRI International, the California Alliance for Arts Education, the Alameda County Office of Education on behalf of the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership, and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

Funding for arts education has declined precipitously in recent years. Public schools of every stripe and location across the state have been affected by the cuts. According to a study by the nonprofit Music for All Foundation, the number of California public school students in music education programs alone dropped by half between 1999 and 2004. That decline represents more than a half million students—the largest drop in any academic subject.

The program plans to make additional grants to support arts education in public schools during the coming year. Performing Arts Program Director Moy Eng said a major goal is to make the arts an integral part of every California student’s education, rather than allow it to remain a lower priority taught only when there is special funding.