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Monday, October 15, 2007

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Appropriations Bills, Arts Funding On Hold

With time running out on the fiscal year, and Congress unable to send a single appropriations bill to the President before the October 1 start of the 2008 fiscal year, a continuing resolution keeping all federal agencies funded at the current year's levels until November 16 was passed by the House on September 26 and by the Senate on September 27. The House has passed all twelve of the annual funding bills, but the Senate has taken votes on just four of the money measures. None of the bills have gone through conference committee negotiations to produce a final funding document for the President's signature. In the meantime, President Bush threatens to veto any appropriations legislation with a total dollar figure over the amounts proposed in his FY 2008 budget. The continuing resolution allows Congress to buy more time to work out their own differences on budget issues and to formulate a strategy for dealing with the President on spending priorities. Such a stop-gap funding measure has become a regular feature in the annual appropriations process. Since 1954, Congress has enacted a continuing resolution for each fiscal year except for three.

With no word from congressional leaders on a schedule for votes on the remaining appropriations bills, the Interior Appropriations Bill, including funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), hangs in legislative limbo. The House passed its Interior funding bill on June 27 with an increase of $35.6 million for the arts endowment, setting a proposed budget for the NEA at $160 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee on June 21 approved its version of the appropriations measure with an increase for the NEA to $133.4 million, adding $9 million over the current year's funding of $124.4 million. The President's budget requested an increase of $4 million for the NEA for 2008.

Just prior to House passage of the Interior Appropriations Bill, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy, calling for a veto of the legislation, with this explanation included: "The Administration does not support the increase in funding above the request for the arts and cultural agencies, particularly the significant increases for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and the Commission of Fine Arts. The funding provided in the President's Budget will ensure adequate resources for these programs.

Besides providing significant increases for the arts endowment, both the House and Senate bills include provisions proposed by the Bush Administration to streamline the partnership grants package awarded to the states. With the enactment of the 2008 appropriations bill, grants to state and regional arts agencies would be awarded in two categories rather than four, with the funds to states for Challenge America and the American Masterpieces initiative folded into the basic grants and the underserved set-aside grants.

In providing increased funding for the NEA at substantially different levels—$9 million in new money in the Senate and $35.6 million in the House—the two bills would allocate the additional funding in significantly different ways. The Senate bill, with the smaller increase, would adopt the Administration's proposal to increase support for American Masterpieces from $5.9 million to $12.3 million, cutting money for Challenge America grants by $2 million in the process—from $10.5 million to $8.5 million. In the House-passed bill, with more money to spend, American Masterpieces would receive an additional million dollars above the President's request, but Challenge America would enjoy $4.5 million in new funding over the current year's level.

In both bills, direct grants for program support would receive increases—to $50 million in the House and $46 million in the Senate. The allocation of grants to these programs would not, of course, affect the total available for state partnership grants. The forty percent share of NEA program funding allocated to the state and regional arts agencies would equal $55 million in the bill passed by the House and $41.2 million approved by the Senate committee. In 2007, state partnership grants were funded at $40.1 million.

NASAA and Arts Education Advocates Propose Recommendations for No Child Left Behind

In participation with the Arts Education Working Group, a coalition of arts and arts education advocacy groups, NASAA has collaborated in the development of recommendations for strengthening the role of the arts in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. As Congress begins consideration of the reauthorization of the federal aid to education law, NASAA and our colleagues in arts education advocacy will work to include the recommendations in the legislation to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as it works through the process in the House and the Senate.

These legislative proposals are based on the unified statement of education policy recommendations endorsed by more than 60 national organizations representing the largest national education associations and the arts community. The unified statement, "Arts Education: Creating Student Success in School, Work, and Life," was developed to demonstrate to Congress the value of improving opportunities for arts education in our nation's schools. The legislative recommendations developed by the working group for the reauthorization of the federal education law would:

  1. Retain the arts in the definition of core academic subjects of learning;
  2. Require annual state reports on student access to core academic subjects;
  3. Improve national data collection and research in arts education; and
  4. Reauthorize the Arts in Education programs of the U.S. Department of Education.

To read the unified statement click here.

State Department Appropriations Increase for Cultural Exchanges

On September 6, the Senate passed the State Department's appropriations bill with $509 million for the Education and Cultural Exchange Programs. The funding for the State Department's exchange programs represents a $23 million increase over the President's request and a $63 million increase over last year's budget. The House passed its version of the bill on June 22 with $501 million for the Education and Cultural Exchange Programs. While the final funding outcome awaits a House-Senate conference committee's deliberations to resolve differences in spending levels between the two bills, President Bush has already indicated his intention to include the State Department appropriations bill among those he would expect to veto.

Recognizing the key role the arts and artists play in our public diplomacy efforts around the world, NASAA and our arts advocacy colleagues have worked with Congress for several years to encourage increased support for cultural exchanges. At the same time, state arts agencies have taken a prominent leadership role in developing opportunities for cultural exchanges. The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) administer a number of programs which engage artists and arts organizations in their cultural exchange efforts. To learn more about these programs, please visit the State Department's Cultural Programs Division Web site.

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA's arts advocacy tools and services.