Underfunding for the Arts

In 2016, budget cuts forced the Chicago Public School District to shut down 50 schools, laying off over 100 art and music teachers.

The arts are often the first target of school budget cuts,being placed at a lesser value than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses. The San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) profile indicates that it has a general budget of around $15 million to be used for all academic needs. Nevertheless, Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) classes often rely on money from student donations, fundraising events such as Art Week, concerts and student art sales.

“We collect donations from students and their families. I know that some classes do okay with that, but then there are other classes where they really struggle to get enough money to buy good supplies for the students,” Stacy Rapoport, Arts Department said.

These classes often require a plethora of outside materials such as: drawing utensils and paint for art classes, clay and pottery wheels for sculpture, a wide range of instruments for orchestra and materials to make costumes and sets for drama. The budgets for these classes vary from year to year, seeing as how the funds are fully dependent onstudent participation.

An inconsistent source of money limits what the students can create, taking away supplies and opportunities that may be available at other adequately funded schools. For example, in the school’s AP Art class, students have no access to technology for digital art because of limited funding, which is a skill necessary for certain prominent art professions such as web or graphic design.

“Even the good supplies we get with donation money tends to be used up very fast, or even destroyed. There are some quality supplies that would be beneficial to students’ art works that we do not receive because there is not enough money,” Senior Shalika Oza said.

Enrollment is the deciding factor in the amount of district support the art department receives. Interest and emphasis on STEM has been increasing nationwide over the past decade as revealed by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and Common Core State Standards, which both set specific guidelines for core classes, but not the arts. According to Law Street Media, this pushes students away from the VPAs, decreasing participation and resulting in a lack of sufficient resources for passionate art students. At school, many students choose to take no more than two years of VPA courses—the minimum amount required to graduate—which exacerbates the underfunding.

“In drama, a lower budget sets back the production because we do not have enough microphones for all major cast members. For the musical last year, and in years before, major characters had to switch around mics in between scenes, which could be a bit hectic,” Sophomore Prachi Goyal said.

Furthermore, the minimal involvement in arts, specifically in regards to music, can also be attributed to the preference for outside courses. Rather than taking a class at school, some parents in the school put their children in private lessons where they may can get one-on-one instruction. “Some advanced kids who are interested in music prefer Youth Orchestra as opposed to the music courses the school offers. It is a pay-to-play situation, and only the advanced kids play and audition, as it has better funding and therefore more opportunities. Private classes also allow students to work at their own pace,” Rian Rodriguez, Music Department said.

Nonetheless, the school’s administration does not ignore the VPAs altogether.

“The departments do not necessarily get money set aside just for VPA. They do some fundraising for their materials and if they need help we support them. But, whatever they ask for we definitely provide. Students actually sell some of their products. I would say there is a higher demand for math and science, but we are always trying to grow the programs. When [the VPA programs] ask for things, we put it into our budget. [There is funding for the arts], it is just not earmarked ‘the arts’.” Principal Brad Craycroft said. Limited funds for art classes are not solely the fault of the government nor the district. Without continued enrollment by students, VPA courses will most likely continue with the same amount of funding, or lack thereof.

“It is not the teachers or administrators that are the problem—it is the school’s campus culture. It is peers and parents telling kids to stray away from the arts and focus on their academics. Our administrators are supporting the arts as much as they can, but without adequate student enrollment in the arts programs, we will not receive increased funding to provide better learning experiences,” Rodriguez said.