Budget cuts have a knack for making things disappear. With history as our guide, we know the arts will be one of the first subject areas to vanish with this year’s school budget cuts. The not-so-entertaining thing is this disappearing act was already underway during a period of historic growth in education spending.
According to an independent analysis of city arts education data released by The Center for Arts Education, budgeting for two critical areas of arts education — arts supplies and instruments and partnerships with community arts and cultural organizations — has nose-dived citywide in the last three years, with Queens public schools feeling the pinch. This has occurred during an increase in total school spending of over $2.1 billion.
While the city Department of Education reports an increase in spending on school-based arts teachers over this time period, only 139 new teachers have been added across the city’s approximately 1,500 public schools. Almost 20 percent of city schools are still without an arts teacher.
Since 2008, budgets for arts supplies and instruments in Queens public schools have been cut by 25 percent, or $160,000. For students, this means that broken instruments stay broken, magic markers replace watercolors and school plays improvise bare-bones sets or are cancelled.
Surveys show that overwhelming majorities of parents — often more than 70 percent — say arts education is vital and studies repeatedly demonstrate that arts classes improve attendance and graduation rates. But while education experts, parents and students beat the drum for arts education, city officials are turning a deaf ear.
Why the disconnect? For one, principals are not required to spend dollars provided to their school for arts education on arts education. Monies once dedicated to arts education have become “soft money.”
Moreover, schools are increasingly pressured to focus on state math and reading assessments, which determine progress report grades, principals’ bonuses and even a school’s survival. As a result, the curriculum is being narrowed as schools divert resources to passing tests.
Empty art cupboards are troubling enough, but the cuts to arts education programs have implications for local communities as well. In the last two years, public schools in Queens have budgeted 3 percent, or $93,000, less for arts partnerships with institutions like the Queens Museum of Art and neighborhood community arts organizations.
Historically, these programs have served as community building models, teaching students about work in the city’s creative sector and developing the next generation of arts supporters New York needs to remain a cultural capital.
Now these partnerships are disappearing. The Queens Museum tells us that schools’ budget constraints are affecting students’ day-to-day interaction with the arts and decreasing the likelihood of future participation in the Queens cultural community.
According to the president of the principals’ union, Ernest Logan, “arts education is invaluable to our children’s academic, emotional and moral development.” For these and other reasons, they are calling on the DOE to restore “the dedicated funding … to prevent more declines in arts education and capitalize on the benefits of arts education for children.”
The DOE should also include the arts, and other elements of a well-rounded education, in the school progress reports, to ensure our students get a balanced comprehensive education.
Otherwise, the disappearing act will continue.
The Center for Arts Education
Director of Research and Policy
The Center for Arts Education
©2010 Community News Group
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