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Death Panels for The Arts and Education?

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the stopgap spending bill that severely cut into education funding, including eliminating funding for the United States Department of Education’s arts education programs.

Here’s a little list of some of the cuts:

  • Arts in Education–$40 million
  • National Writing Project–$25.6 million
  • Teach for America–$18 million
  • Reading is Fundamental–$24.8 million
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards–$10.7 million
  • New Leaders for New Schools–$5 million
  • We the People–$21.6 million
  • Close Up fellowships–$1.9 million
  • Exchanges With Historic Whaling and Trading Partners–$8.6 million
  • Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity program–$3 million
  • B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarships–nearly $1 million

For those of you that might think using the term “death panel” is in bad taste and hyperbolic, no matter how one might define the politically hijacked term, think again. These cuts may very well kill some very fine and important organizations, as well as programs, providing invaluable services for children across America. And if you’ve ever spent time in under-served urban schools, you would understand the great value of these programs.

It’s a stunning list, both big and small. Politically powerful (and able to withstand the hit), such as Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools, as well as more under the radar programs such as the arts education initiatives at the US Department of Education.

For organizations like the National Writing Project, which depends on the feds for half of its  budget, with the other half from local matching grants, this bill may very well be the equivalent of a death panel decision.

If you have the patience, click here for a detailed budget FY11 Education Department Budget document.

What is more, these funding lines, which are not earmarks by any reasonable definition, have been identified as such, thus providing cover for a hatchet job.

A group of senators registered their protest.

Keep this in mind: 100 democratic members of congress voted for this bill.

So, what does one make of all this?

Well, there is an interesting editorial in today’s New York Times: The Hollow Cry of Broke. In essence, based upon emerging polling data, it says that these cuts, as well as the attacks on labor, are an overreach. The editorial implies that these cuts and political attacks (which are all in my view a move to restore the nation to what we had in the Hoover administration) will ultimately result in a boomerang effect.

If you read these tea leaves closely, it might just give you a sense of the strategy developing in the White House and Democratic Party, something not quite discernible, as the Democrats struggle to with how to gain the rhetorical high ground.

But now voters are starting to notice the effects of these cuts and to get angry at the ideological overreach. A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Tuesday
showed that Americans oppose ending bargaining rights for public unions
by a majority of nearly two to one. And the poll sharply refutes the
post-Reagan Republican mantra that the public invariably abhors all tax
increases. Nearly twice as many people said they would prefer a tax
increase to cutting benefits of public employees or to cutting spending
on roads.

Over the past two days, I have been in close touch with two colleagues who are leaders in terms of Federal issues and the arts: Narric Rome, of Americans for the Arts, and Heather Noonan, of the League of American Orchestras. (I do want to acknowledge and thank them for being such great colleagues.) We’ve been working together to get the word out and help craft action from all of those who have arts education programs funded by the United States Department of Education.

There is still some chance that a more positive result could come about through the next, long-term CR (continuing resolution). The one silver lining, perhaps, is that I have this feeling that this may just be one great opportunity to advance arts advocacy. Maybe it will take these sorts of events to create new possibilities for how the field can work together and with other sectors to advocate for children, education, and the arts.



  1. Thanks Richard for highlighting these ridiculous and devastating cuts. What America has achieved some Congresspeople are determined to destroy. If this crisis becomes a rallying point for arts advocacy, yes — that’s a good thing. But my fear is in some of the arts the advocacy groups are gone (I’m thinking of jazz) or never have had much leverage anyway (folk arts), that the potential advocates/current activists who’ve been struggling to support their initiatives over many tough years may be too exhausted, their resources too tapped, to extend the battle, and that younger audiences/potential advocates have been siphoned off by compelling commercial arts and entertainment forms so they’re not aware of what might be lost, or interested in trying to save it.
    Sorry to be so gloomy — maybe it’s time I take another happy pill. But we’ve been fighting the GOP trying to dismantle NEA, DOE, CPB, etc. for a long time, simultaneously trying to make our art – and all they do is attack while making money.

  2. Thanks for the comment Howard. I appreciate it, and also appreciate all the great work you do, for the jazz community in particular.
    This is all very tough, and I think it’s apparent to so very many that the fight, the advocacy, in long-term. I do believe that the advocacy for the arts in America is still at a very early, developmental stage, and again, as fatigued as so many of us are, that what is happening today, which will change the landscape in so many way, will set the stage of this field to evolve to the next necessary stage of more powerful advocacy and stronger community across and through the extremely diverse landscape we call the arts.

  3. Marci Seamples says

    Another possibility is to look at this a potential job creator, albeit not in the hundreds. There are a lot of very talented fundraisers and fundraising agencies out there that are very capable. Perhaps its time these worthwhile programs depended on the private sector – could be a win win for both sides.

  4. Ann Hingston says

    Perhaps the White House thinks no one will notice: “The Emperor wears no clothes.” President Obama is leading the charge to cut federal funding for arts and arts education programs. Look at President Obama’s FY 2012 budget request in which he asks Congress to cut or eliminate the arts and arts education programs. The links to the budget charts show cuts in the FY 2011 CR but fail to show that Obama asked for these cuts in his FY 2012 budget to Congress. See on Dept. of Ed website: FY 2012 ED Budget Summary: Programs Proposed for Consolidation or Elimination.
    Similarly, the President asked Congress to eliminate NEH’s “We the People” that promotes teaching of American history in our schools.
    And President Obama asks Congress to cut NEA by 13% to $146.255 million. (NEA’s budget was $155 million when George W. Bush left office.) See at With less money, President Obama proposes for NEA to “expand focus of learning in the arts beyond children and youth to support lifelong learning in the arts.” He also asks Congress to approve the elimination of NEA’s Jazz Masters and Jazz in the schools program, NEA’s Heritage Fellowships, and Opera Honors. Through these programs, the US Government honors artists for excellence (not commercial success) and showcases their creative achievements, as models for our children.

  5. Jeri Krohn says

    Perhaps you’re looking for support in the wrong places. Or perhaps you’re sending the wrong message. There are a lot of people out there that are sick and tired of the “cut/we’re broke” as the only answer rather than creative solutions – American innovation is not dead, but it does need to be reawakened.
    It takes one voice…and I discovered that out in a very personal way while standing on the front steps to my Capitol in Madison on February 13, 2011. There were 200 of us that day wondering if we were the only ones who understood the impact of an upcoming budget repair bill…2 weekends later, there were over 100,000 us.
    You may have forgotten the individual artist in your decision while funding bricks and mortar…but they’re still there and a force to be reckoned with. I invite you to listen/watch and hopefully inspire you to reach out to the people…truly the grassroots folks that are looking for a way to help rather than acquiesce…for we are ready to rewrite history.
    And me? Tomorrow I’m working on recall of Senators who would rather rubber stamp political garbage while ignoring the fact that I to am your constituent…my Wisconsin is not on anyone’s agenda and its not for sale.

  6. At this point, I think people would try pretty much anything and everything.

  7. Thea Avis says

    Let’s help out the banks with a bail-out and let the higher echelon continue to make their fortunes – while creating the economic mess we’re in – but let’s not allow creativity to flow by cutting funding to the arts.
    It’s the creativity that’s going to bring back normalcy.
    Give your heads a shake and listen to what the grassroots are demanding.
    We don’t have the right people leading the world.

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