Arts in Education, House Passes FY 2018 Appropriations Bill

Last week, the Education Commission of the States released “Beyond the Core: Advancing Student Success Through the Arts.” The report details research that shows that arts education can have dramatic effects on critical 21st century skills, such as creativity, teamwork and perseverance. Further, while arts education supports success across student groups, disadvantaged and at-risk students often see even greater success through these programs. The arts also provide students with tools and practice in creatively making decisions and solving problems when no prescribed answers exist.

The report notes that arts in education is most effective when integrated into other academic subjects. Integrated arts learning is defined as “an approach to teaching and learning in which students engage in a creative process that connects an art form with another subject to promote deeper learning in both.” What I find appealing about the integrated approach is that it offers all students—even those who do not opt to participate in structured instruction in the arts—the chance to engage in the creative process and use it to reinforce their understanding of literature or history or science content.

The report provides examples of programs that successfully increased access to the arts in education and includes state- and local-level policy considerations. The report also includes brief summaries of selected research on the effects of art education on deeper learning skills and student achievement. My favorite line in the whole report is found in this section in a description of student achievement results for a program that used teaching artists and classroom teachers to provide lessons in visual arts, theatre and dance to ELL students in high-poverty schools. Not only did speaking and listening skills improve significantly, “attendance rates were significantly higher on days with scheduled art lessons than on days without.” You think? There’s something to be said for offering activities that students enjoy and where they may be able to participate more successfully than they do in more traditional academic areas.

On Wednesday, the full House of Representatives considered the education portion of the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill. Time was limited as were the number of amendments that were offered. Three amendments were voted down—a $70.2 million increase for Career and Technical Education (263-153), a $1.18 million increase for magnet schools (221-204) and a 2% reduction in funding for several offices within the Department of Education (285-131). The House did approve a $100 million increase in funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (228-188). The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, though quite controversial when originally introduced, has enjoyed wide bi-partisan support for several years now.

On Thursday, the House approved a package of 12 appropriations bills that would provide about $1.23 trillion in 2018 for discretionary programs, including the Department of Education. The House spending bill provides $66.1 billion to the Education Department, roughly 3.5% less than ED’s current budget of $68.4 billion. The final education appropriation is in line with the draft the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed back in July. The House appropriations bills will eventually have to be reconciled with whatever the Senate passes, where appropriations progress is much slower. With the passage last week of the Continuing Resolution, Congress has until December 8th to pass a final budget for FY 2018.

A final note. Now that Hurricane Irma has finally worn itself out, we’re watching an entire state deal with the aftermath of this major disaster. As in Houston, getting schools open and operating along somewhat normal lines will be a central element of any community’s recovery. Students will find comfort and security in being back with their classmates and teachers, even if that reunion takes place in a different building. Teachers will be providing more emotional support and watching for problems even more closely than normal as they work with students who have experienced deep trauma. I can’t imagine how one does that while dealing with the same trauma and the practical challenges or getting your own life back in order. But teachers will step up and, if there is any good news here, they will be getting a lot of outside support.

The education industry is a generous and caring community (as are most Americans when faced with this kind of tragedy). I’ve seen dozens of announcements this week from school market companies large and small about the ways they are reaching out to schools in both Houston and across Florida. There are offers of free subscriptions to digital resources, donations of materials to rebuild the collections of school libraries, efforts to provide school supplies, arts and crafts materials, STEM resources and replace musical instruments, sports equipment and an array of computer and telecommunications equipment. And this is on top of efforts organized by schools across the country to collect and share resources with affected schools, many spearheaded by students.