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What is California Proposition 28 and Why Are Music’s Biggest Names Supporting It?

Advocates say the legislation will lead more kids to pursue music business careers while helping diversify the workforce. 

For evidence that California’s Prop 28 — which seeks to provide nearly $1 billion in new funding annually for arts and music education in all K-12 public schools — has become a pet cause among music luminaries, one need look no further than the industry’s most famous structure. The Capitol Tower in Hollywood, whose cylindrical shape has long drawn comparisons to a stack of records, currently has a “Yes on 28” flag flying prominently from its roof.

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Universal Music Group, which owns the famed building and has given $25,000 to support the measure, isn’t the only high-profile supporter of Prop 28, which voters will weigh in on Nov. 8. Authored by former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner, the proposition has been endorsed by more than 350 individuals and organizations, including companies like Fender Music and CAA; legendary executives such as Quincy Jones and Irving Azoff; and A-list artists like Dr. Dre, will.i.am, Lil Baby and Katy Perry. In mid-October, Christina Aguilera and her fiancé Matthew Rutler (investor and founding executive of MasterClass) hosted an event at their home in support of the proposition that featured performances by musicians Lady Bri, One Republic’s Tim Myers and Aloe Blacc.

So why has the music industry, which Prop 28 does not directly support, come out to endorse it so heavily? As advocates put it, the money invested in students now will benefit the music business down the road.

“The most important beneficiaries are the kids themselves,” says Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender Music, which provided $100,000 in seed money for the proposition and donated another $1 million to collect signatures and market the proposition. But, he adds, “the benefit for companies like ourselves, or anybody who’s in the music and arts business in California, is the long-term investment that may yield dividends beyond my tenure.”

Currently, according to proposition authors, “barely one in five public schools has a full time arts or music teacher” and “arts and music programs have often been the first to get cut” at California public schools – a problem Prop 28 is designed to fix. The money allocated by the measure – which must be spent on arts and music education such as teachers, supplies, arts partnerships, training and materials – would include accountability and require schools to publish annual reports on how they spend funds, including specific programs and how students benefited.

Important in garnering support from voters is the fact that Prop 28 “is not taking any money away from existing school funding,” says Beutner, who retired as superintendent last year and has spent his newfound free time focusing on the measure. The money provided by Prop 28 would be 1% of the California school funding budget, which is currently 40% of the state’s general fund. But instead of siphoning that 1% from other school needs, it increases the school budget from 40% to 40.4% of the state’s general fund. Based on the current year, that would amount to $950 million – 1% of the state’s $95 billion school budget.

Also important to many supporters is the fact that Prop 28 offers a route to diversify the creative sector. While all 6 million public school students in California would have access to the new funding proposed by the measure – which will come from the state’s general fund without raising taxes – 30% would go to schools based on their share of low-income students enrolled statewide (with the remaining 70% going to schools based on their share of statewide enrollment).

UMG’s chief people and inclusion officer and co-chair of the Taskforce for Meaningful Change Eric Hutcherson, who says this is the first proposition UMG has officially gotten behind as a company, notes that by exposing more kids to music education, the new funding will inevitably inspire future leaders in a variety of music industry roles that go beyond just being an artist or producer. “What you find is that these industries have all of those opportunities available,” he says.

Entertainment veteran Tim Sexton, who executive produced the Emmy-winning Live 8 benefit concert and has been working with Beutner to drum up artist support, adds that for media companies “worried about diversity, equity and inclusion, you don’t need to look further than our public schools to see that’s the population looks like that’s what the workforce ought to look like.”

The proposition would ideally be investing nearly $1 billion into California’s creative economy as well. According to Bloomberg, the state of California is on the verge of becoming the fourth largest economy in the world by overtaking Germany and, according to a study conducted by Otis College of Art and Design, nearly a quarter of the state’s economy comes from the entertainment sector.

“Companies like ours, that moved to California to be at the nexus of entertainment and technology, rely on a skilled workforce to fill the high-quality jobs we create here,” said Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge in release in April. “If enacted, this initiative will ensure a future job-ready workforce and secure California’s position as the global epicenter of music and the arts.”

Informal opposition to the measure argues that the increased usage of general funds should be used to address other issues like homelessness or paying down state debt, but the Official Voter Information Guide for California residents – which provides arguments in favor and against each proposition – states that “no argument against Proposition 28 was submitted.”

“I’m not a ballot initiative expert, but I have asked some and no one can recall the last time [an argument against wasn’t submitted,” says Beutner. “It’s truly a unicorn.”

The impact of Prop 28 could be felt far wider than California. If the initiative is successful this election cycle, supporters say they would be interested in taking tailored versions of Prop 28 to other states.

“The money that we spent in support of this initiative is one of the best investments the company has ever made for the future,” says Mooney. “We can replicate that investment in other states where music and art is also really important. Think of Tennessee or Florida with Miami, which is the heart of Latin music in the U.S. these days. There’s a lot of opportunities.”