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New Senate ESEA bill threatens the role of arts education

By James Palmarini posted 01-29-2015 08:24


2015 has brought a new Congress to Washington, with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate. Along with the new faces (and plenty of veterans), are fresh bills—including a reauthorization proposal for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) put forth by Senate education committee chairman Lamar Alexander. The bill, which is the fourth such effort to reauthorize ESEA (known more recently as No Child Left Behind) since it expired in 2007, is currently under discussion by the Senate. The House is expected to issue its own reauthorization bill, most likely a variation of a failed bill offered in 2013.

The Alexander bill features some alarming changes that could ultimately have a profound impact on arts education access and equity at the state, district, and school level:

  • Deletes the definition of “core academic subjects,” which includes the arts. The core definition of arts, along with several other subject areas, not only makes arts education eligible for federal funds, it serves as a prompt for how states define and support arts education in their own annual budgets.

  • Terminates the $1 billion 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program, which grants states funds based on their share of Title I funding for low-income students for a range of programs—including arts education.  

  • Terminates the federal Arts in Education program which has supported over 200 model grant programs throughout the country for over a decade.

  • Omits indicators of student access to the arts as part of annual state reporting that help identify the equity gap.

As a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Education Working Group, EdTA has been engaging in a dialogue with other arts and education service organizations on a response strategy to the bill, along with legislative briefs that will be distributed as part of Arts Advocacy Day in March. Americans for the Arts Director of Government Affairs Narric Rome offered a succinct summary of the political landscape surrounding ESEA in a recent blog post, dating from its 2007 expiration to the introduction of Alexander’s bill. In the post, he calls for supporters of arts education to weigh in and comment about the bill by Tuesday, February 2. Americans for the Arts has issued an Arts Advocacy Alert that includes a link to a customizable letter that allows anyone to voice their opinion about the Alexander reauthorization bill.

As busy as you are today with daily classes, reports, emails, rehearsals, and challenges you did not know the day would bring, take a few minutes to speak out about your support for the continued inclusion of arts education as part of our children’s well-rounded education. They deserve it and so do you.