The effects of the current economic crisis have had dramatic repercussions within all levels of the education community, leaving many music teachers extremely concerned about the survival of their programs and their jobs. According to an article in The New York Times, March 21 edition, part of the national economic stimulus package that is slated for education, in many states, will filter through to the music and the arts. One concern, though, is that states and local districts have significant leeway in how these dollars may be used, and they may be vying to divert the stimulus dollars to support a variety of other programs. This presents a critical time when arts programs must again rally for the support of their respective communities to ensure that they are deemed integral parts of their local systems.
With nearly $40 billion in economic stimulus slated specifically for education, many schools will be receiving between $1,300 and $1,800 per student over the course of the next year. However, some states are considering cuts to existing education funding, which in essence is redirecting funds to shore up their budgets in other areas. In The Times, Molly Hunter, the executive director of the New Jersey-based finance-advocacy group Education Justice, indicates that, “States have big shortfalls in their budgets, and there’s going to be the temptation to use the stimulus money for that purpose.” She notes that the practice of “supplanting,” or replacing, state funds with federal funds is generally highly restricted by federal guidelines, but there are always loopholes through which some of these rules can be skirted.
The second concern about the education stimulus package is the equitable distribution of the funds between under-funded systems and those that have significant capital resources. “Utah, where a $1.3 billion budget deficit has threatened deep school cuts, will get about $655 million in education stimulus money, or about $1,250 per student, according to the federal Department of Education. Wyoming, which has no deficit and has not cut school budgets in many years, will get about $1,684 per student.” This situation, unfortunately keeps music out of the schools of many districts that simply can’t afford to support a program even with the economic recovery money.
Although the stimulus package is far from perfect, it could serve to alleviate some of the drastic measures that would have been necessary in order to maintain current levels of funding at the local level. Music and arts programs are still in a precarious position as far too many districts regard them as enhancements to their curriculum rather than core subjects like Math and Science. This is a pivotal time to rally support and write letters to local, state, and federal politicians insisting that stimulus funds be directed to their proper destinations.