Written by: Katie Bandurski (2014)
Brrrring. The bell rings at 2:37; the day is finished, but the best part of school has yet to begin. I pack up my backpack, meet some friends, and head down to the Fine Arts wing. Promptly at 3:00, rehearsal begins. Seniors lead warmups, encouraging the cast to chant along with the nonsensical vocal exercises. “Moses supposes his toes’s are roses’s” we cry. Each and every one of us looks ridiculous, but no one cares, no one is here to judge. Once our lungs are exercised, we set up the stage and start running scenes, perfecting each line, each movement, and each expression. For two hours, everyone involved is transported to a different world: a realm where Shakespeare is cool, where donkeys can talk, and where fairies actually exist. By 5:00, the magic is over, patiently waiting to be unleashed again at 3:00 the next day. This is the excitement of drama. Theatre is just one example of how critical fine arts programs are to schools. The lifelong lessons learned, the feeling of family, and the chance to unleash creativity show the countless benefits of fine arts programs. Nevertheless, as schools attempt to cope with dwindling budgets, many turn to the elimination of these programs. However, due to the fundamental nature and irreplaceable value of fine arts, these courses should not be eliminated.
Ever since the recession hit, educational institutions across the nation have been forced to deal with tighter budgets, often causing many schools to eliminate fine arts. The problem begins at the state level, as the economic slump caused funding for public services, such as education, to decline. Phil Oliff, Chris Mai, and Michael Leachman for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorties report that:
Twenty-six states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year [2012-2013] than they provided a year ago. These funding cuts have been modest, but, in many states, they come on top of severe cuts made in previous years.
As schools struggle to cope with reduced budgets, fine arts programs are often one of the first things to go since they are not considered to be core curriculum. Staci Maiers, writer for the National Education Foundation, explains that “because fine arts education typically is not considered core curriculum or included on high-stakes standardized tests mandated by federal requirements, music, art, theater and dance usually are the first to be left behind.” Additionally, a national focus on the importance of reading and math has pushed fine arts out of the classroom. After the No Child Left Behind act was passed, schools across the country expanded the amount of classtime focused on reading and math, “mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks” (Dillon). With demands to keep up with narrowing budgets and pressures to succeed in specified subjects, schools often resort to removing fine arts.
Despite the financial funding fine arts require, they are an integral part of a school environment, and without art programs, schools will cease to flourish. A survey conducted in 2003 by the Gallup organization, reports that “95% of Americans believe that music is a key component in a child’s well-rounded education” (Hurley). In addition to the educational benefits, keeping fine arts can actually save schools money. Martin Rayala, consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, explains that “studies show that schools that cut arts programs end up within the next three years spending more money on education, and their test scores in other areas actually go down” (Hurley). Rayala continued:
Within two to three years, every school that cut arts showed a decrease in morale and attendance and an increase in vandalism and disruptions, and within three years most of them had to add extensive disciplinary staff to account for the problems that were created by not providing the full range of experiences that human beings need.
Overall, cutting fine arts programs only furthers financial burdens for schools, while children receive a bland, basic education.
Instead of depleting arts, schools have numerous other alternatives that will help keep them in budget. One option is reducing how much money is spent on ink, textbooks, and other supplies. A school district in Montana recently brainstormed potential money-saving cuts and determined that “Textbooks are a large expense that could be eliminated. If the district decided not to replace or update its books, it could save money” (Albertson). Furthermore, many schools have access to online databases that could be used in place of updated textbooks (Albertson). On the other side of the country, South Carolina has proposed another feasible solution: online curriculum. Schools who integrate online learning have the ability to “offer a wider array of advanced and technical courses to all students” (Nielsen) without having to pay for staff members or materials. On average, “per pupil costs at the state’s [South Carolina’s] virtual charter schools are an estimated 25 percent to 65 percent lower than at traditional public schools” (Nielsen). By reducing money spent on supplies, and replacing traditional elective classes with virtual courses, schools can stay within their budgets while keeping vital programs alive.
As time goes on, school budgets will only get tighter. Nevertheless, certain programs must be preserved if schools are to retain their identities as institutions of learning, growth, and achievement. Eliminating fine arts programs is not a quick way to “save” money, but rather deteriorates the school environment, as students no longer have the means to express themselves. In short, we as a society must strive to preserve our schools and the vital opportunities they provide through fine arts; otherwise future generations will only be robbed of artistic expression.