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The Successes and Difficulties of Portland's Arts Education Tax

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Sep 18, 2017

In 2012, Portland voters passed a ballot initiative that imposed a $35 flat fee on residents to help fund arts education. Last week, the initiative was upheld in the Oregon Supreme Court after facing a challenge from retired attorney George Wittemyer. With the law surviving for now, both supporters and opponents are taking stock of what the tax has achieved for Portland’s public schools.

“Today’s decision is a big win for Portland’s kids,” city commissioner Nick Fish said in a statement. “Thanks to the ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court, over 30,000 Portland children will continue to have arts education in school.”

According to the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), the money collected through the “arts tax” has allowed the city to almost triple the number of arts and music teachers. According to Artsy, “that amounts to one arts teacher for every 380 K–5 students in the city’s public school system.”

However, alongside the impact of the tax for young people, observers have also pointed out that the tax is becoming increasingly expensive to administer. Because the tax is collected separately from local and state taxes, it is a cumbersome process that is not bringing in as much money as anticipated. 73% of Portlanders paid the tax in the first three years (estimates predicted 85%) and the administration of the tax costs 2-3% more than accounted for in the law’s enactment.

Furthermore, while certain groups are exempt from the tax (those under 18 and families below the poverty line), some ”arts advocates argue that the tax needs to be made progressive, rather than flat, so that those with higher incomes pay more, allowing more grants to be awarded to minority and lower-income areas of Portland.”

Learn more about the successes and difficulties of the tax here.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.