UPDATE: U.S. Senate Proposal Provides Direction for Future of Arts Education

Posted by Narric Rome, Nov 29, 2011 0 comments

Narric Rome

Last month, I wrote a post that described the work of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, last authorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Since that time, we have gathered new information through further examination of the bill text and through meetings with congressional staff.

It is unclear if there will be time for the bill to receive Senate floor consideration and additional amendments before Congress adjourns for the year, but this new information will still have an effect on the reauthorization movement:

Well Rounded Education Amendment

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), along with co-sponsors Senators Murray (D-WA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Merkley (D-OR), introduced the Well Rounded Education Amendment which was approved by voice vote. While the amendment shares similar objectives to the Obama Administration “Blueprint” proposal -- it is significantly different than that proposal in structure and effect.

The Senate language creates a single grant program through which states (with partners) can compete for funding to provide support to: arts, civics and government, economics, environmental education, financial literacy, foreign languages, geography, health education, history, physical education, and social studies.

There is no authorized funding level set for this grant program, although if funding reaches $500 million, it triggers a change in the funding distribution -- from one based on state grant requests to one based on the school age populations in each state.

The funding structure would be a significant departure from the current manner in how the Department of Education makes competitive grants in many of these covered subjects (directly to school districts and community based organizations).

Perhaps the most interesting element of this amendment is the approach it uses to address the narrowing of the curriculum. Because the authors intend for the 11 “covered subjects” to be given systemic support by the state applicant, in order to compete for these funds a state must undertake a needs assessment of how each subject is provided for currently, and how the state would address those deficiencies.

Programs of National Significance

As reported last month, the ten “Programs of National Significance” in the bill includes an arts provision. Through the committee process, the exact language of this provision has been revised to support “model projects and programs” for both individuals with disabilities and “children, youth, and educators.” The original focus on disabilities was expanded to include the additional program element.

Legislative Mentions of “Arts”

Mentions of the arts in the legislative text varies throughout the bill.

In the current No Child Left Behind Act, the ‘arts’ is not defined any further into specific disciplines -- which is the preference held by a broad group of arts education stakeholders. No other core academic subject of learning is defined in federal law, and an attempt to define the arts could leave out the many and emerging facets of arts learning.

While the definition of core academic subjects in the Senate committee legislation includes the “arts,” there is, sprinkled throughout the bill, additional references to “music and the arts,” “art, or music, or…” and “in the performing and visual arts.”

Americans for the Arts is working with congressional staff to maintain a consistent reference to “arts” so that no art discipline becomes marginalized through inadvertent phrasing.

Stay tuned to ARTSblog for more information as this committee process continues throughout the rest of the year.

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