Schools await arts funding

ROAD BLOCK<br>Chico State has proposed the closure of Orange Street, between First and Second streets. The lots on both sides of the short block have been razed for construction of the Wildcat Activity Center.

Chico State has proposed the closure of Orange Street, between First and Second streets. The lots on both sides of the short block have been razed for construction of the Wildcat Activity Center.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

When school budgets shrink, as they have in recent years, art and music instruction are often the first programs to be cut. In the era of No Child Left Behind, standards and test scores and the resulting emphasis on reading and mathematics come first.

School budgets sometimes expand, however. That’s what’s happening this year, and one of the areas that will benefit is art and music instruction. Included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget is an allocation for art and music, and in the next few months the Chico Unified School District will start seeing some of that money.

Jan Doney, the arts and music teacher at Marigold Elementary School, believes the district is in line to get about $1 million, which would be a huge increase in arts funding. Doney, who has been teaching for 21 years, is passionate about her work and excited to see that Sacramento is finally putting its money where its mouth is.

The funding is part of a $645 million chunk of California’s education budget dedicated to physical, arts and music education that, Schwarzenegger said in a press release, he hopes will “nurture kid’s souls. … Maybe we will awaken the next Mozart or Picasso.”

While the arts have been labeled a part of the “core curriculum” in California for 10 years, only now has any substantial amount of funding been targeted at them. In fact, most programs around the state have been stifled because funding has been shifted to focus on raising test scores for math, reading and writing.

“In doing this, you totally neglect an entire segment of the community,” said Doney. She and other arts teachers have had to scramble to do their jobs with stretched resources, but the dollars coming in now will make their jobs easier. Some of the money is for staff, but a large chunk is for buying materials and supplies. Doney is hoping for a kiln, musical instruments and materials for school theater such as costuming and lighting.

The CUSD has a committee of six teachers who are working on proposals for submission to the school board. Doney would like to see the No. 1 priority be expanding music to the primary grades. With the new funding, she sees this as a possibility, especially if done over a couple of years.

“Expand music to third grade this year, second grade next year, first grade the next. … My big dream is that we in Chico Unified would provide all students with arts education—all students.”

As the governor put it, “every art teacher knows that exposing kids to art and music allow their imaginations to soar.” Just as important, though, is the well-established fact that young children’s brains are still forming in the early primary grades and that creating art and playing music—singing and beating on drums and other percussion instruments—help them develop neural connections that increase their ability to do well in other areas, such as reading and math.

More and more studies show a strong relationship between art and music education and higher test scores. For example, the journal Neurological Research published an article in 1999 that found that music students performed significantly higher when tested on fractions, which are a basic component of musical structure. Music teaches ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time, but it also provides a lifetime means of self-expression. What could be more educational than that?