In addition to LCC grants the MCC and its partners educate thousands of children and teens in the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences across the Commonwealth through programs like Big Yellow School Bus, STARS Residencies, YouthReach, and SerHacer. Education in the arts and culture help kids perform better academically, develop essential workforce skills, and become productive members of our communities. For more information about MCC's arts education and creative youth development work, visit the Creative Youth site.
Over the last few years, arts education has been cut back as testing demands and budget crises across the state have combined to push education in the arts and humanities to the edge of the curriculum. While the MCC pursues strategies on the statewide level to enhance the role of arts and cultural education, we need allies on the local level. It is our goal to provide local cultural council members with the resources and support to effectively inform local decision makers about the power of the arts and cultural education. For more information about how LCC volunteers can play an essential role in advocating for the arts and culture in their community please read on.
Advocating for Arts Education in your Community
There are a number of ways advocates can work to ensure arts education remains an important part of the curriculum in your community's schools. One of the most powerful ways is to appeal to your local school committee. School committees make important decisions about school budgets, staffing and curriculum. Now more than ever, school committees must balance their community's vision of quality education with the harsh realities of a constricted budget.
While advocacy may sound intimidating and the idea of convincing the school committee to keep the arts in school may sound like a monumental task, school committee members themselves will tell you that sometimes all it takes is five new people attending one of their meetings and speaking up for the arts. Watch this short arts education advocacy video of Brian O'Connell, a School Committee member in Worcester, who offers very simple and concrete steps you can take to keep the arts in your schools by working with your school committee through the budget process.
Arts education advocates are in a perfect position to support their school committee members by providing needed messaging, engaging visuals and success stories to justify expenditures and show the positive results of a well-rounded education that includes the arts and is accessible to all students. To that end, arts education advocates can provide a powerful voting block to help school committees pass budgets that support arts education.
While determining a school's budget, school committees hold open forums and public meetings to gain community feedback that will help them prioritize next year's spending. This is your chance to make your voice heard. Plan a presentation, get on the agenda and tell your committee that:
- An investment in the arts is an investment in a quality education that engages the whole child.
- All students deserve a high quality education that includes the arts, no matter where they live.
- The arts help develop skills needed for creative industries and 21st century jobs.
- Communities thrive when schools provide students with a high quality education that includes the arts.
And don't stop there. Get to know your committee members on an individual basis, as they are parents, business leaders and educators in the community as well. By building these relationships, your opinion can influence these powerful decision makers and help to ensure that arts learning is included in their plans for the next school year.
School committee members set policy for the district and are often high profile, influential individuals and decision makers in other arenas. Making presentations to the entire school committee is crucial gaining committee members’ support in a community forum can help make arts learning a district priority.
The Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network has published a comprehensive toolkit that serves as a great resource for advocates interested in keeping the arts in schools. It features a thorough review of the characteristics in an effective arts education advocacy plan, and how to create one.
Another great resource is Arts|Learning’s own toolkit, which outlines the process on a local level and provides helpful hints and resources including sample letters and publicity materials.
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Your advocacy should focus on some key events: the election of school committee members and the crafting of the school budget. The election and school budget timeline varies by community. Be sure to call school administrators early to find out your school committee's particular schedule. Find out when meetings and public hearings are held and ask ahead to be put on the agenda to make your presentation.
There are two important opportunities to make your presentation to the school committee – when they are developing the preliminary budget, or after the preliminary budget is approved but before it is finalized. Getting in early while the preliminary budget is being crafted allows you to give the school committee the important information they need about the value of funding arts education.
If you cannot get onto the agenda early on in the process, or you learn about an unfavorable proposal for arts education in the preliminary budget, you can focus your efforts on the public hearing process around the preliminary budget and make your presentation during the hearing with your supporters in the room. Here is a rough timeline of the school committee election and budget process:
September – November
- School Committee campaign and elections
- Find out who the candidates are. Participate in candidate forums, town meetings and "meet and greet" parties in your neighborhood. Introduce yourself to the candidates. Educate them on the role the arts play in your schools and students' lives. Ask the candidates publicly where they stand on issues of arts education in schools.
- Raise support for candidates that support arts education friendly policies.
- Once elected, educate new school committee members about the importance of arts education. Sample letter to committee member.
- Preliminary Budget Drafted: Principals, superintendents and sometime the school committee themselves create a preliminary budget to be presented to the school committee for review.
- Find out who drafts the preliminary budget and when it will be presented.
- Write letters to the principal/superintendent/school committee, urging the inclusion of arts in the curriculum. Sample letter.
- Request time on the agenda, using this Sample request to make a presentation.
Be creative – involve students, parents, teachers, art work, music, whatever it takes to tell a compelling story at the public hearings. Arts|Learning has very effective videos you can show the committee.
November – March
- Public hearing process for preliminary budget: The public is given the opportunity to respond to the proposed budget before it is put to final vote. A strong public response can result in arts education being put back into a budget.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the value of the arts in school or the potential negative impact the proposed budget will have on students.
Sample Letter to the Editor.
- Get other parents and committee members to reach out to school committee members and encourage them to rethink any proposed cuts to arts education that appear in the preliminary budget.
- Make your presentation, and get your supporters to the public meeting. Encourage advocates to be in attendance wearing or carrying arts supporter gear. Advocates should be prepared to share their personal views and stories to highlight how arts learning has affected their lives and impacted the community. Again, be creative and tell compelling stories.
March – June
- Final vote on school budget
- Keep up your letter writing campaign leading up to the vote.
- Attend the final meeting with your supporters in full force.
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Making the Case
When making the case for arts education in schools, you will hear many arguments and excuses for not keeping the arts as a core part of the curriculum. Below you will find common arguments made against arts education and counterarguments you can use to make your case, as well as a case study of Holliston, MA, where advocates argued for additional support for the arts, for their schools and for their community.
Scheduling/Lack of Time
Response: A number of scheduling alternatives exist and are being used by schools. These alternatives include switching from a six-period to a seven-period day, offering courses on alternative days, or block scheduling. There is always a way to make time for the arts.
Need to Concentrate on Raising Math and Reading Test Scores
Response: The arts help to build critical thinking skills that are useful in math and reading. The arts also help connect with hard-to-reach students, inspire students to come to school, and build self-confidence – all important to raising test scores.
Need to Cut Programs to Balance the Budget
Response: The average student load of arts teachers is greater than that of other teachers. By cutting an arts program, a district might actually have to hire more teachers to handle the student load. Arts classes also allow classroom teachers to have important planning time.
You can also say "I know you have a difficult process ahead of you, I know it will be challenging, but I can tell you that students need the arts" and "the music program is critical to his/her complete and well-rounded education, and I urge you not to further cut this core subject area which has long been underfunded." Then tell a specific story or example of how this class is so important to your student(s).
Lack of Community and School Committee Support
Response: Recruit parents of arts students to advocate for your cause. Point out how the arts are a core academic subject under Massachusetts law and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The arts fit in with the school district's mission statement and educational philosophy. The arts teach important skills for getting and retaining jobs in the 21st century workforce – creative and critical thinking, working collaboratively, presentation and self-expression, and cultural and global awareness.
Arts Instructor is Weak
Response: Change or improve the personnel rather than discontinue the arts program. Put the interests of the students first. To not include the arts as part of our basic education is to disconnect ourselves from critical 21st century workforce skills and from understanding what it means to be alive. The arts nurture intellectual and imaginative growth because they enrich the spirit, deepen our sensibilities and instill important human values.
Adapted from the New Mexico Alliance for Arts Education
Support Holliston: A Case Study
In the spring of 2010, the Holliston School Committee was poised to make sweeping cuts to the school system, which included cuts to art educational opportunities as well as athletics, teachers and administrators. The proposed budget would have eliminated drama, band and some foreign language classes.
Paul Gillespie, Ann Louise Hanstad and other concerned residents did not want to see that happen. They launched an intensive six week campaign to override the budget and to provide additional funding to the school system through an increase in taxes. Initially called Save Holliston Schools, the initiative was renamed Support Holliston when it became clear that the impact of the cuts made to the schools would have far reaching effects.
The argument Support Holliston made was effective – eliminating arts and humanities opportunities hurts our schools. Hurting our schools hurts our communities – and even hurts our pocketbooks. On May 25 the override proposal narrowly passed. One of the most compelling arguments they made, especially to those that did not have children in school, was about the economic impact of the school budget cuts. Here is the case they made:
Save Money – Vote YES on the budget override!
There's more at stake than the quality of education Holliston provides to its children – your property value is at risk.
The average Holliston home is worth $394,000. If that home loses just 1% in value because we degrade the quality of our schools with these cuts, it will cost that taxpayer living in that home $3,940 in resale value. One percent of $394,000 is $3,940. That's:
- $3,940 less the day you sell your house
- $3,940 less in home equity value for you to borrow against
- $3,940 less in value on a reverse mortgage
The increase in the tax bill from the passage of Question #1 for that taxpayer is $193 a year. That taxpayer would have to pay an extra $193 a year for 21 years before exceeding a 1% drop in his home's value. If your house is worth more than the average home in Holliston, then a 1% loss in property value will cost you even more. A taxpayer living in a $500,000 home stands to lose $5,000. A taxpayer living in a $750,000 home is looking at losing $7,500 if our degraded school quality lowers the resale value 1%.
So, if you think you might be selling your home in the next 20 years, or borrowing against it, there's a very good chance you will reduce your financial risk by investing in our schools today. Vote YES on Question #1 on May 25 and protect your #1 asset.
By broadening their base of support from those that valued arts education, to those that valued quality schools, to those that wanted to maintain the value of their community, the Support Holliston group was able to gain the support of a variety of community groups beyond parents of school aged children.
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Arts|Learning: a statewide arts education advocacy organization which also provides a web-based arts advocacy toolkit, including the video, Enlivening the Senses: ArtsLearning at the Core of Education.
Americans for the Arts' Arts Education Navigator Series, an e-books series on arts education advocacy.
Americans for the Arts (AFTA): "The Arts. Ask for More." public service advertising (PSA) campaign.
Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network (KCAAEN): a coalition of statewide not-for-profit Alliances for Arts Education to support policies, practices, and partnerships that ensure the arts are an essential part of American K-12 education; provides advocacy toolkit.
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