Arts education needs to be incentivized through dedicated funding. Because the NYC public school system is not meeting even the most minimal standard requirements for arts education, the arts should be treated as a “protected class” of studies. When it comes to arts education, we need all of our schools to be winners. It is critical that the DoE create a dedicated funding line with budget allocations for schools to prevent more declines in arts education and capitalize on the benefits of arts education for children.
—Ernest Logan, President, The Council of Supervisors and Administrators
It is generally accepted that principals don’t like categorical funding. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), which is the union that represents principals, assistant principals, and other administrators in the New York City public schools recognizes that categorical funding for arts education is indeed one of those rare and important exceptions.
The categorical funding for the arts in the New York City public schools was called Project ARTS. Essentially, it worked three ways: it could be used to offset up to 50% of the cost of a new certified arts teacher; it could be used to pay for arts supplies; and it could be used to pay for the services of cultural organizations. Prior to its elimination, it was set at about $65 per student and it could only be used by a school for those three purposes. The funding that went to pay for cultural organizations was generally matched by private donations at a rate of three dollars to every one. It was commonly understood that Project ARTS spearheaded the hiring of well over a thousand arts teachers in the NYCDOE. Here are two briefing documents CAE created on this issue in 2007: Project ARTS Briefing Paper.doc; Project ARTS-a brief history.doc
In 2007, it was eliminated. Basically, the reason given was that it didn’t work very well. We were told that it tended to ensure low quality arts education and that it also tended to cause principals to spend less on arts then they would without Project ARTS.
A year later, we were told that the reason it was eliminated had nothing to do with how it worked, for it worked fine. Instead, it was eliminated because the NYCDOE had plans to “empower” the principals to create and spend their budgets as they see fit. “We don”t earmark funds for reading and math.”
One thing’s for sure, with there having been no formal evaluations of Project ARTS by the NYCDOE, the basis for the decision was not driven by data.
At the time Project Arts was eliminated, we received many, many calls from school principals saying that it was a bad idea. Principals had used Project ARTS strategically: it helped them protect arts spending during a period of increasingly high stakes testing in ELA and math; it brought in extra dollars from private donations; and it helped them stretch to hire arts teachers by offsetting the cost of the new teachers with restricted dollars. This statement by the CSA affirms what we already knew.
In all fairness, the NYCDOE considers Project ARTS to still be in effect. You see, there is still a budget line for Project ARTS, but it’s no longer dedicated to anything. For new principals who have entered the system since 2007, they don’t even know what the term Project ARTS means. The NYCDOE also believes that there the elimination of Project ARTS has been a success by just about every measure.
Many people disagree.
Okay, for the moment, that’s probably enough for you to know. And believe me, for everything I’ve mentioned in this long and somewhat convoluted blog entry, I am leaving out two or three vital things, including information about the campaign to restore dedicated funding.
The real news here is that CSA submitted testimony at a recent New York City Council hearing on arts education that dedicated funding for the arts should be restored.
This was a bold and important statement that branded the CSA as a powerful advocate on behalf of arts education in the New York City public schools. They recognize what many know to be true: that with the ways that the educational system is structured today, the deck is stacked against a subject like arts education, and that it needs something to help protect, sustain, and incentivize it in order to ensure that every child receives a high quality education that includes the arts. The great irony here is that something like Project Arts, when combined with some of the recent quality initiatives of the NYCDOE would make for a truly powerful and necessary combination that could really move arts education forward, particularly with this tough economy.
Here is the testimony. I hope you will download it, because in my view, it signifies a historic moment in arts education advocacy, made possible by the great leadership and vision of CSA.
With budget decisions now made at the school level, the mid-year budget cuts and deeper cuts planned for next year will back most school leaders against the wall once again: they are likely to feel forced to scale back arts programs even further in order to focus on mandated subjects, particularly reading and math. Considering the elimination of Project ARTS and the additional looming cuts to school budgets, we may be looking at a perfect storm brewing for arts education.
While CSA believes that Principals need a large measure of autonomy over the way they run their schools, we believe that the DoE must restore mandated funding for arts education for all NYC schools, in much the same way as it was mandated in the Project ARTS initiative.