Art, Music Classes Fall Victim to Budget Cuts

Principal Says Schools Must Find Unique Ways to Keep Art and Music Classes

Originally posted in the fall 2011 edition of The Leader

Children of all ages, races and social statuses across the nation find inspiration and stimulation in the art and music programs their public schools offer. Despite the influence these powerful programs can have on students’ lives, they have been at the top of the chopping block when schools are looking to make budget cuts; some schools even have lost their art programs altogether.

“Art, music or dance is the reason some students come to school every morning,” said Robert Daniels, supervisor for the Visual and Performing Arts Department of San Francisco Unified School District, United Administrators of San Francisco, AFSA Local 3.

Education should go beyond teaching STEM and Common Core Standards. It is well documented that going to school teaches students valuable social lessons and lessons about responsibility that resonate with them throughout their lives. When students have no interest in learning, they cannot absorb these critical lessons. Daniels said students who may not take a particular interest in a core academic subject have the opportunity to learn useful lessons in their art classes.

Daniels sees art and music programs as being similar to physical education classes, since they are implemented with the goal of providing students with alternative ways to learn. As the arts supervisor, Daniels has seen how art classes of all types can have a monumental impact on students’ lives.

“Art allows them to find joy in learning,” Daniels said. “With access to arts, you have various avenues to make kids want to learn and to learn better.”

All students learn differently, and every student has different strengths and interests. By eradicating art and music programs, districts are putting a roadblock in the way of the students whose passions and strengths are manifested through these outlets.

“Students look forward to arts or sports classes because there, the brain is learning, socializing and creating,” Daniels says. “They are using their brain in the way it is supposed to be used, rather than drilling their brains for a test all day.”

Even students who are not particularly driven toward art, music or dance programs miss out if not offered the opportunity to participate in such classes. Generally, volunteers, parents and fundraisers support art programs in low-income areas.

“The success of these programs varies,” Daniels says. “If you have a group of people who really love art, they will raise money, but that still doesn’t make up for the lack of budget.”

Daniels suggests that schools with a loss in funding should cultivate relationships with local artistic resources. Historical societies and local art programs often offer field trips and hands-on activities. In San Francisco, Daniels takes advantage of the local symphony, ballet, opera and museums.

Daniels’ district has yet to see vast budget cuts in the arts due to the Public Education Enrichment Fund, which provides funds to local elementary, middle and high schools. A master arts plan was organized in 2005 to allocate funding for the most necessary components of the arts for 10 years. This funding allowed 42 new local arts programs to flourish in the San Francisco area.

Funding for public education comes straight from the government, an issue, Daniels thinks, that should have people concerned.

“Voters need to become aware that if their representatives don’t start to make decisions about the way school is funded, there will soon be nothing available to students other than the core subjects,” he said. “That would be a tragedy.”

The San Francisco area is fortunate to have lively art and music programs. However, many districts, such as Haywood School District near San Francisco, are completely eradicating art programs, putting the more creative students at a total loss.

“If that would have happened to me in high school, I don’t know what I would have done,” Daniels said.