The Office of the New York City Comptroller recently released a report detailing the inadequacy of arts education provided for students living in the five boroughs. The State of the Arts report included shockingly low figures for the presence of art rooms, partnerships with arts organizations and full- or part-time certified arts teachers in city high, middle and elementary schools. The Department of Education documented a 47-percent decline in spending for arts and cultural education over the past seven years. New York City has always been celebrated as a hub of artistic expression, and if it is to remain so, the city needs to promote expansion of shrinking arts programs by ensuring that funds are allocated to securing arts partnerships and qualified arts teachers in public schools.
The report’s executive summary begins with a conclusion: “The provision of arts education in New York City’s public schools has become both inequitable and underfunded.” Weakened by a decade of “disinvestment and disincentive,” art is the first thing to go from struggling city schools. The report’s school-by-school breakdown found that 28 percent of schools in the city lack even one full-time arts teacher, placing these schools in direct violation with New York State law that establishes minimum instruction requirements for the arts. Worse still, the reduction of availability of arts education has fallen disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods — areas whose students have more to gain from the enrichment that music, dance and hands-on learning can provide.
Given the budget cuts that have consistently put arts education in public schools under siege, those who are committed to bettering school systems should immediately devise solutions to compensate for this inadequacy. Some parents have chosen to enroll their children in outside programs, including after-school programs at local organizations and private lessons. However, a select number of parents placing their children in arts classes cannot be considered a sustainable solution. Not all families can afford this luxury, whether in time or finances. Communities must band together to create advocacy plans to restore art, music and drama in schools. The Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network has already recommended this tactic.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina both share a conviction for equity in education. If they are to act upon this conviction, they must ensure that every child in the city receives the education that is guaranteed to them by state law. The arts can no longer be seen as expendable.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 14 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]