Funding for the arts and music in schools was thrust back into the limelight last Friday as the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities released a report urging educators to re-invest in arts education.
Over an 18-month period, the committee gathered information from multiple studies and sources about the benefits of arts education and offered ways to bring the arts to underserved schools.
Taking the findings of its report, PCAH is making five recommendations to create a well-rounded K-12 education in American schools. They include building "collaborations among different approaches" for teaching the arts, expanding "in-school opportunities for teaching artists," and utilizing "federal and state policies to reinforce the place of arts in K-12 education."
The committee's report also revealed two major themes. One theme is the diverse style of teaching the arts across the country due to "nonprofit community organizations, visionary school principals, private philanthropy, and parent groups."
The second is the need to more widely distribute quality arts education so that it is available to more students. PCAH acknowledged that arts education is disproportionately unavailable to students in lower-income schools.
Nick Rabkin, a senior research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, whose research was cited in PCAH's report, is cautiously optimistic that President Obama's interest in the arts may translate into support for arts education.
"It's a hopeful sign. The President's Committee on Arts and Humanities is not the Secretary of Education even though Arne Duncan wrote the introduction to the report," Rabkin told ABCNews.com. "It doesn't have a budget to do this. Secretary Duncan does, and Secretary Duncan's got a soap box to stand on and preach to the states' education commissioners all across the country to make changes in state policy too."
A Battle Over Funding
As the White House released its findings, the battle over funding for arts education continues in towns across America.
Dave Gallaro, a parent and marching band field staff member at Jordan-Elbridge High School in Jordan, N.Y., is concerned about the music program in his district -- so concerned, in fact, that he recently decided to run for the local school board. The music program is slated for a 41 percent cut in the band budget, $24,000 out of $59,000. The athletic program is facing a 28 percent cut, he told ABCNews.com, but that program starts with $500,000.
Music and Arts Programs Face Deep Cuts
Jordan, a village in central New York, is not alone.
Last May, the Broward County Public School system, in Florida, reduced arts funding in more than a third of their middle and high schools.
And in New York City, between the 2006-2007 school year and June 2010, the funding for the arts in public schools was cut by 68 percent, or $7.2 million.
The scenario of music and arts facing deeper cuts than sports is common across the country, leaving a question: Why do music and the arts seem to go first?
Robert Sabol, the president of the National Art Education Association and chair of the Department of Art and Design at Purdue University, cites many reasons for the cutting of arts programs, but specifically points to the No Child Left Behind Act as a major contributor.
The No Child Left Behind Act was a 2001 revision to an earlier education law. NCLB is aimed at making schools more accountable by using standardized tests to rate how well students are learning. If a school is considered to be "in need of improvement," parents can have their children attend another school. The law has received criticism for making performance on high-stakes reading and math tests more important than an overall education.
"Because of that and some other state legislation, requirements, the arts are frequently and I think generally not included in state assessments of learning," Sabol told ABCNews.com. "And because of that they are seen, in many cases, at the periphery of education."
Jeanne Dangle, Superintendent of the Baldwinsville Central School District in central New York, offered her own opinion of why such programs are often times cut first.
"A lot of times those aren't mandated like your cores: math, science, social studies, English. They're mandated. Your special ed program, they're all IEP [Individualized Education Program] driven, they're mandated programs," Dangle said. "So, it's really looking at the electives."
Dangle explained that the Baldwinsville district has been working hard to make sure cuts are even across the board. Last school year the district reduced their athletics spending. In the past they have reduced the number of staff members teaching family and consumer science, while this year the district has decided to cut art and music education for kindergarten.
Rabkin points to a lack of understanding by the public as the reason for what many see as disproportionate cuts.
"I think the biggest reason for [the cutting of arts education] has to do with a misconception about the cognitive value of the arts," Rabkin said, "That for the most part, people think about the arts as things that are affective and expressive, but not academic and cognitive."
Rabkin added that when times get tough, people automatically try to cut things they consider less academic. He also pointed out that this battle is nothing new.
Battle Has Deep Roots in American Culture
"Going way back to the 19th century, advocates for arts education were trying to convince the people who ran the schools to include the arts with all kinds of arguments that really had relatively little to do directly with art itself," Rabkin said. "For example, one of the reasons music was included in the curriculum was because they found it helped immigrants learn to speak English with less accents by learning how to sing.
"It also taught immigrants who weren't Protestants, they could teach Protestant hymns during music class," he continued.
Visual arts, he said, were taught "because there was a connection between learning to draw and draftsmanship, which was necessary to make plans for the machines and factories of the industrial revolution. So we've always made these arguments for the arts that weren't so much about learning art, but about the practical benefits of learning the arts would have for the kids."
Arts Education Benefits Students in Other Subjects
Today, advocates for arts education point out that students who participate in the arts score better on standardized tests, a finding acknowledged by the PCAH report.
One important study released in 1999 by UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies that studied students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade shows that students heavily in arts education have a growing advantage over students less involved in the arts and that this transcends all income levels. The research showed arts-involved students usually perform 16 to 18 percentage points better than their peers who are not involved in the arts. The same study also showed a correlation between involvement in music and proficiency in math.
Sabol conducted his own research on the impact of the No Child Left Behind law on visual arts education at all levels. His study found that 47% of his respondents claim their art schedules were being interrupted more often. More than half reported budget cuts in consumable supplies.
"If you don't have paint and ink and paper on which to create your artwork, it basically hampers the program. So, these kinds of cuts are essential. The programming starts to fail," Sabol explained.
Rabkin, with Dr. E.C. Hedberg, a research scientist at the NORC, analyzed data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, revealing a major difference in arts education by race. In 2008, 57.9 percent of whites between the ages of 18 and 24 reported receiving arts education as a child. Only 28.1 percent of Hispanics and 26.2 percent of African-Americans in that same age group reported receiving arts education as a child.
At Jordan-Elbridge graduating senior Kathryn Alonso-Bergevin, who has participated in the band, chorus and the musical tech crew, is upset about the possible cuts to the arts. She also plans on majoring in art education.
"They just consider it to be an extra, but for a lot of us it isn't an extra, it's a thing that we go by and that is involved in everyday life," Bergevin told ABCNews.com. "You see the American flag, which is considered art. You see any piece of artwork, say you see a Picasso, you know that that's Picasso because you've grown up learning about the arts and being involved in art."
Bergevin also said that if extra-curricular activities in the music and the arts were cut, the students who participate in those won't have the same motivation to go to school.
Gallaro, who has two sons in the music program at Jordan-Elbridge, is hoping that there are no major cuts since the school's strong music program is why he moved to the area from Baltimore.
"We moved in here because Jordan-Elbridge is a strong music program and I remember that from when I went to Port Byron, Jordan-Elbridge would kick our butt every year and I said I want my kids to go to that school because they have a really strong music program," Gallaro said.
"Arts education," Sabol said, "must be considered part of the essential education of every American citizen."
ABCNews.com contributor Matt Phifer is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Syracyse, N.Y.