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Advocates Fear Impact of Trump Budget on Arts Education

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President Donald Trump’s plans to eliminate some big-tickets items in the federal education budget — such as aid for after-school and teacher quality programs – have sparked sharp criticism. At the same time, supporters of the arts are rallying against the president’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts — which provides some grants for arts education.

Also, arts advocates fear Trump will seek to abolish $28 million in arts funding at the U.S. Department of Education, as part of unspecified cuts the president has proposed for the agency.

The debate over federal arts funding comes at a time when some states are giving renewed attention to arts education. At least five states are looking to include access to arts programming as a component of their revised accountability systems under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, as Education Week recently reported. In addition, more than a dozen states recently revamped their arts education standards.

More than 700 cultural leaders gathered in Washington last month to strategize and visit congressional offices as part of Americans for the Arts’ 30th annual Arts Advocacy Day, as The Washington Post reported. In visits to every U.S. Senate office and many House offices, they made the case to protect arts funding, including for education.

Fostering Creativity

One unlikely ally is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a conservative Republican who ran for president in 2016 but ultimately dropped out and endorsed Donald Trump.

“Many children get their only access to music and the arts via grants made by the NEA — 40 percent of which go to high-poverty neighborhoods,” Huckabee wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post. “I’m for cutting waste and killing worthless programs. I’m not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity.”

As part of his federal budget blueprint, Trump proposed to eliminate federal funding for the NEA, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

The NEA supports many arts initiatives nationwide, including grants for K-12 education. Examples from this past year include:

  • The Young Authors Book Program, an in-school literary arts program that is part of a youth reading and publishing organization called 826 Boston, received a $10,000 grant to train writing tutors and provide other assistance to high school students from underserved communities.
  • The Alameda County Office of Education in California received $50,000 to expand arts programs for students through a program called Inspiring Creative Communities, to collect data so that they can make plans for how to improve arts education in the Bay Area in upcoming years, and to continue to host an annual showcase of arts learning.
  • The Summer Music Conservatory in Texas received $15,000 to grow a music education program for students from the greater Houston area.

Out of the NEA’s fiscal 2016 budget, $5.8 million was awarded for pre-K-12 arts education projects, with nearly 200 grants. It also provides some additional money for teacher professional development.

Haves and Have-Nots

“We’re going to further create a ‘have and have-not’ society in terms of who has opportunity to engage in art education,” Jim Palmarini of the Educational Theatre Association told Education Week. “Those who have resources to ensure that students get those experiences, they’ll get it. Those who don’t, won’t.”

Rolling Stone magazine put a spotlight on the issue in a recent story, “How Arts Organizations Are Bracing for Trump’s Possible NEA, NEH Cuts.” It also provided some historical context. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 he proposed eliminating both the NEA and the NEH, and when that was unsuccessful he later proposed cutting their budgets in half.

In addition to what comes from the NEA, federal funding for arts education comes from the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education. The program is authorized under ESSA and has provided funding to schools in more than 230 congressional districts in 33 states, according to Americans for the Arts.

The budget blueprint calls for eliminating or reducing funding for more than 20 Education Department programs that “do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, or are more appropriately supported with state, local, or private funds.”

How Congress will respond to the president’s budget request remains to be seen, even with Republicans controlling both chambers. But arts advocates note that one key ally for their cause is U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee and has supported arts education.

At the state level, even in the face of these potential financial obstacles, educators are still finding new ways to ensure that music, theater, dance and other arts are included in a well-rounded education.

The California Arts Education Data Project shows that, from 2013 to 2015, almost all students in the state had access to some type of art education, but only 26 percent attended schools that offer courses in all arts disciplines listed in the state education code — dance, music, theater and visual art.

Meanwhile, some states are looking to factor the arts into their metrics for judging school quality under ESSA, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. The new law requires states to select one indicator beyond math and reading test scores, graduation rates, and English-language proficiency in judging schools.

For example, New Jersey has already include the arts in their state accountability systems since 2014, and is now expected to propose it as a school quality indicator in their revised ESSA accountability plan. Several others states also are considering similar plans, according to Education Week.

“We think it’s terrific,” said Narric Rome, a vice president at Americans for the Arts, of plans to use the arts as an accountability indicator. “It’s what we’ve been trying to work towards since ESSA passed, and has been a legislative objective for a long time.”

Also, 14 states — including Arizona, Delaware, and Vermont – have just adopted new arts standards based on the National Core Arts Standards, according to Education Week. These recommended standards were created by a coalition of over 50 arts organizations and educators. They include guidelines for instruction in dance, theater, visual arts, music, and media arts. More states are expected to follow suit in adopting these standards in upcoming months.

These arts standards are different than previous ones because they include media arts as a new discipline, are more accessible to educators online, contain suggestions for arts education at individual grade levels, and come with sample assessments for educators. They also group together each of the arts disciplines – dance, theater, visual arts, music, and media arts — and focus on concepts they have in common, rather than treating them as entirely separate.

For more background information, check out the EWA’s topic page on Arts Education.