State Legislative Session 2015—Arts Education Policy and Funding Advancing at the State Level

Posted by Ms. Elisabeth Dorman, Dec 17, 2015 0 comments

As leading organization for advancing the arts and arts education in the nation, Americans for the Arts' Federal Affairs team keeps its finger on the legislative pulse line of Capitol Hill and champions arts and arts education friendly legislation such as the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)*.

Americans for the Arts is also passionate about empowering positive arts and arts education policy at the state and local levels, where there is much less political gridlock and thus more opportunity for positive change to occur. Our State and Local Government Affairs team connects individuals to their respective State Arts Action Network (SAAN) members, tracks arts and arts education legislation at the state and local levels to study trends, and enables members to lead grassroots action on state and local issues through our e-advocacy tool, Voter Voice. Furthermore, Americans for the Arts’ dedication to strengthen arts education by advancing state policy culminated into the State Policy Pilot Program—an initiative supporting 10 state teams over three years with grants of at least $30,000 to each state effort, customized coaching, and technical assistance.

As the 2015 legislative session winds down for the majority of states, we wanted to provide a brief round-up of notable arts education legislative victories and advancements at the state level.

SOUTH CAROLINA: On June 30, the arts education community was shocked to learn that Governor Nikki Haley announced that she would veto 87 budget items—among the vetoes was #21 which would eliminate $1 million in new, recurring funds for arts education grants from the South Carolina Arts Commission's budget. Supported by Republican State Superintendent Molly Spearman (pictured), the new funds were to be used to increase support for existing arts education grant programs by developing new partnerships designed to reach underserved areas and students in high poverty schools.

Then on July 6, the South Carolina State Legislature reconvened to take up the governor's vetoes. The same day, the House voted 102 to 16 in favor to override Veto #21. On the very next day, the Senate approved to override Veto #21 with a vote of 33 to 3. The $1 million for arts education was fully restored for the South Carolina Arts Commission's FY16 budget. SAAN member South Carolina Arts Alliance led the charge in providing timely e-advocacy alerts for arts education grassroots supporters to directly contact their state elected officials. Constituent voices were heard, and the arts education funding was recovered.

NORTH CAROLINA: Back in December 2010, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the Comprehensive Arts Education Plan (S 66). The act charged a taskforce to consider policies to further implement arts education in public schools. The three main goals of the Plan were to achieve: a requirement of arts education in grades K-5; the availability of all four arts disciplines in grades 6-8, with students required to take at least one arts discipline each school year; and the availability of electives in the arts at the high school level. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources—which houses both the North Carolina Arts Council and A+ Schools—and Arts North Carolina, the state’s SAAN member, have taken on the most responsibility to shepherd the taskforce’s progress. The core group also identified arts integration and arts exposure as actionable goals for the Plan.

In the 2015 legislative session, House Bill 138, “Arts Education Requirement,” was introduced on March 3, 2015; the bill would modify the State Board of Education’s graduation requirements to include one required credit in arts education to be completed by each student at any time in grades six through 12. After successfully passing the House on March 18, the bill was tabled in the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

In addition, the North Carolina Arts Council’s state funding was boosted by a 6.5 percent increase, which was its first increase in eight years, in the final 2015-2017 state budget. Also, more than $1 million was added into Grassroots Arts programs and A+ Schools—a very welcome surprise! 

ARIZONA AND OHIO: Currently, all Arizona high school students are required to complete a fine-arts credit as part of the admission requirements to Arizona's three state universities. This session, House Bill 2261—sponsored by Republican Representative Rusty Bowers (pictured left)—proposed to amend the requirement to allow students to substitute a credit of career or technical education in lieu of a fine arts credit. Arizona arts advocates worry that changing the university requirement will mean less emphasis on the arts in high schools and could negatively impact arts education funding within school districts. HB 2261 passed the House on March 3, 2015 but was tabled in the Senate. Arizona’s Board of Regents is planning to revisit all admission requirements next year.

In Ohio, the Board of Education voted on April 13 to eliminate the "5 of 8" rule in the Operating Standards for Ohio Schools. The "5 of 8" rule required districts to fill at least five positions for elementary art, music or physical education teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, school nurses, social workers, and "visiting teachers" for every 1,000 students. Now, it will be at each local school board’s discretion to determine how many of the aforementioned positions to fill at their schools. Supporters of eliminating the "5 of 8" rule believe school districts now have much needed local control, while critics foresee the change will make these positions vulnerable for cuts during tight budget cycles.

NEW STATE STANDARDS IN THE ARTS: On June 4, 2014, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards published the first revision to the national arts standards in twenty years. Resulting from a transparent, state-led process held over three years, the standards were crafted by educators for educators. “The voluntary national core arts standards serve to inform curriculum, instruction and assessment nationwide and improve student learning and achievement in the arts by defining artistic literacy, shaping policy and research, influencing teacher training, practice and evaluation, and clarifying connections between the arts and 21st century skills.” (To find out more about the national arts standards, check out Arts Education Program Coordinator Jeff Poulin’s blog post, “What You Need To Know About the New National Core Arts Standards”).

While arts standards adoption will take time as states move forward in reviewing them, the Kentucky Board of Education already voted unanimously in adopting the National Core Arts Standards—a major victory. To learn more on what your state is planning, please visit to find your state department of education’s arts education consultant, who can then provide you with more information regarding your state’s plans and how you can get involved.

It’s an exciting time in the field of arts education advocacy. With the recent passage of ESSA; the knowledge and the field advancing work with state leaders like the State Arts Action Network, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, and the State Policy Pilot Program; and newly developed tools empowering arts education advocates like the Arts Education Navigator—we can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store!


*To find out more about ESSA, check out Vice President of Government Affairs and Arts Education Narric Rome’s and Federal Affairs Director Kate McClanahan’s blog post “‘Waiving’ Goodbye to No Child Left Behind.”

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