What Does A Recent S. Mark Taper Foundation Give Tell Us About the State of Arts Education Funding?

And now for some good news.

The Los Angeles-based S. Mark Taper Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to SOL-LA Music Academy, a nonprofit performing arts community school whose mission is to provide "an outstanding education in the performing arts to young people."

The gift is a testament to the school's innovative curriculum, its ability to reach students regardless of income, and its organizational acumen.

The gift also underscores the still-unsettled state of arts funding and education across the country, as schools, still emerging from the Great Recession, aim to restore cuts while resisting the urge to place the arts education onus squarely on the shoulders of private foundations.

Of course, every district is unique. Some have healthily rebounded while others haven't. But one thing is certain: Regardless of the district's current financial situation, administrators, more than ever, are looking to private foundations to either plug the gap or go above and beyond existing funding levels.

The Los Angeles School District — the second largest in the country, mind you — provides an interesting case study.

We recently looked at Exit Stage Right, a wildly successful arts education program that, by 2009, reached 11,000 LA students annually across 110 schools. A year later, the LA school district cut its funding, forcing the program to rely on the Rosenthal Family Foundation to fill the gap.

But the tide turned. In 2013, we learned that the district voted to make arts a mandatory "core subject." As a result, arts education would be less vulnerable to draconian cuts. Despite this savvy move, the district was still reliant on a $4 million fundraising campaign by the LA Fund for Public Education. Notice a pattern here?

Soon after, the district announced it would nearly double arts funding back to 2007-2008 levels of about $34 million. That's nearly twice the $18.4 million the district spent in 2011-2012.

So we applaud the district for re-upping and not falling back on the generosity of private funders. But the temptation is omnipresent. With post-recession coffers slowly replenishing, the urge will be strong to allocate that money elsewhere. Needless to say, we think that's a bad idea.

And where does the Taper Foundation gift fit in to all this? It proves that even as some school districts reinstate cuts, it's not stopping local foundations from keeping the private funding spigot open. Arts education nonprofits need to keep abreast of funding changes in their areas, identify gaps, and continue to improve their programs to meet the needs of the community.

Because the great thing about foundations like S. Mark Taper is that they know a good thing when they see it.