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Friday, July 8, 2011

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Legislative Update

Arts Education Future Uncertain

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

What do you say about legislators with a popularity rating in the single

When our supporters in Congress talk about the importance of the arts in the lives of Americans, they always mention the value of the arts in education. Indeed, there is no partisan disagreement when it comes to the educational worth of the arts in our nation's schools. Yet when legislators are looking to slash federal spending and cut the size of the federal budget deficit, funds for the arts in education are as vulnerable as any others.

At the end of May, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which has authorizing jurisdiction over the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), passed on a strict party-line vote a bill to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education's Arts in Education program with its support for competitive grants to promote innovations in arts education.

The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891), introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, would eliminate some 40 education programs identified as "inefficient and unnecessary." In fact, this is the only source of dedicated federal education funding to support arts education as a core academic subject of learning through direct competitive grants. An amendment to Hunter's bill, offered by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), aimed to restore funding authorization for the arts education program and a handful of others such as language education, teaching of "traditional American history" and economic education. It failed to pass, on a party-line vote as well.

The Hunter bill poses a greater threat to the Arts in Education program than the annual appropriations measure, since H.R. 1891 would permanently repeal the provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that authorize funding each year to the U.S. Department of Education for the program. Spending for this same program had been eliminated earlier in the year in the fiscal year 2011 omnibus appropriations bill passed by the House. Fortunately, bipartisan support in the Senate ensured that funding would continue through 2011 for the grantees in arts education, the only education program terminated or cut during the budget battle that was restored in the final continuing resolution.

There is no word on when the bill might go to the House floor for a vote, or what its prospects might be in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Much of the legislative activity this year on Capitol Hill has revolved around legislation passed by the Republican majority in the House and rejected—or ignored—by the Democratic majority in the Senate.

The bill sponsored by Hunter was presented as the committee's debut effort in reform of ESEA. In fact, the measure has little to do with reform, failing to address concerns raised by Republicans as well as Democrats since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A second bill introduced by Hunter, billed as "the second in the committee's planned series of education reform bills," would address the development and expansion of charter schools. The serious consideration of reforming federal education policy remains in the future.

NASAA and our colleagues in arts education advocacy have for several years urged Congress to retain the arts as a core academic subject in the reauthorization of ESEA, which has been pending action since the statutory authority expired in 2007. As a core academic subject, the arts are already eligible for federal funding through broad categories in ESEA administered by states such as Title I, teacher training, school reform, technology and after-school programs. Fortunately, an automatic one-year extension occurs annually, anticipating congressional delay.

In fact, the implementation of NCLB—the most recent iteration of ESEA—has led to the erosion of arts education in the schools. A 2007 study from the Center for Education Policy found that since the enactment of NCLB, 30% of districts with at least one school identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring have decreased the instruction time for art and music. These are the districts whose students are most responsive to the benefits of the arts, as demonstrated through numerous research studies. Unfortunately, the legislation being considered by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce continues to ignore the unintended consequences of NCLB and the diminishment of the arts education in our schools.

For information on NASAA's proposal for arts education reform, see Strengthening Arts Education in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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