Funding arts must be part of Kirwan reforms

As your recent editorial indicates, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Maryland Schools’ (Kirwan Commission) vision is for Maryland to have world-class public schools preparing students for college and careers in a rapidly evolving economy (“Hogan and the legislature are on a school funding collision course. Here are five things to keep in mind as the Kirwan debate unfolds,” June 10).

When today’s fifth graders begin their working lives in 2030, technology will have transformed the workplace in ways humankind has never experienced before, according to Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s founder and executive president. Employers will be looking for workers who can solve complex problems, think critically and creatively, collaborate, have emotional intelligence and are cognitively flexible. The competencies that will be in high demand are best — if not uniquely acquired — through instruction in the creative arts.

Last year, the state school board codified new standards for all arts (visual, music, theater, dance and media), and expectations that arts instruction be provided to all Maryland public school students including pre-K in amendments to regulations for the fine arts passed in 1989.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the existing funding formula (Thornton/Bridge to Excellence) was calculated without consideration of the prior regulation, much less the new regulation. Financially challenged jurisdictions have considered the requirements for the arts an “unfunded mandate.” As a result, inequities abound. For example, 100% of Anne Arundel County elementary school students receive both music and visual art instruction while in Baltimore City 55% of elementary students receive music instruction and 81% are enrolled in visual arts classes.

The Kirwan Commission has been wrestling with funding formulas. A major concern is equity of opportunity — are we providing our least advantaged citizens with the quality education, including the arts, that our more advantaged students receive? Learning through the visual, performing and media arts transcends race, religion and culture and develops empathy and cultural understanding. The arts increase attendance, school engagement, graduation rates and test scores.

Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) believes since Maryland now has in place regulations that recognize the importance of arts education from pre-K through high school, the Kirwan Commission must include arts education in its per pupil funding formulas. Unless instruction for all the arts is explicitly included in calculating adequate funding, we know from extensive experience — here and across the country — that access to high-quality arts programs will continue in areas with more affluent students, enabling them to thrive, but will be denied to students living in high-poverty areas who will fall further behind.

Mary Ann Mears and Lyn Frankel, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the founder and the chairwoman of Arts Education in Maryland Schools.

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