A friend of mine recently told me that the year after she graduated from high school, her school cut the 7th and 8th grade football teams and laid off a few of the music teachers. As is the case with my friend’s school, significant financial reductions is one of the weightier matters facing schools. My last post introduced some research I conducted on the pros and cons of having music in schools. Continuing my research, the focus of this post is on how budget cuts affect school music programs.
The financial burden that weighs heavily on school administrators cannot be ignored. States throughout the country have felt the need to significantly cut public school expenses. For example, California reduced its financial aid to school districts by billions of dollars, cutting numerous programs. In 2011, the Pennsylvania state legislature cut public education spending by about $900 million (10%) in order to reduce the state budget deficit. Virginia school districts suffered roughly $700 million in budget cuts. Roughly 13,000 support staff, such as school nurses, and janitors, suffered an additional $500 million in pay cuts.
It is clear that school administrators’ financial concerns are well-founded, and financial deficits are the root of many problems that they have to address. Lack of funding often results in fewer staff, fewer classes and programs, larger class sizes, and other adjustments. A recent reduction in New Jersey will likely eliminate afterschool programs for approximately 11,000 students as well as 1,100 staff positions. According to a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, the number of elective courses offered by Pennsylvania schools decreased by 44 percent while the class sizes increased by 70 percent. Missouri schools are reducing their transportation costs by nearly 50 percent in order to allocate funds elsewhere. And to add more fuel to the fire, Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, believes that even if the economy improves, it will still be several years before school districts will feel the benefits from it. With so many needs and demands to consider, it is no surprise that school administrators put non-academic programs like music on the backburner.
Schools need to use funds wisely, giving priority to the most important aspects of education, but some parents and educators feel that school districts are guilty, in part, for the budget deficits. On National Public Radio, Walt Gardner, a blogger, columnist, and teacher of 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, shared some insights about the misuse of school funds. He reported that a school in Allen, Texas spent $60 million on a football stadium. “I love football,” he said. “I know in Texas they love it more than I do. But in dire times, this money should be spent in the classroom, not on the athletic fields. [This is] a question of priorities.” He further added that his school district, Los Angeles Unified, is also guilty of mixed priorities, spending $578 million to build the Robert Kennedy Community School, “the most expensive school ever constructed in the U.S.” Another teacher in Gainesville, GA observed that her school replaced perfectly sound textbooks with new ones, guzzling precious funds. Schools will not be able to maintain music programs if their financial resources are not budgeted appropriately.
Many schools have been able to use funds wisely, though, despite budget cuts. One parent from Live Oak, Florida proudly shared the success of her children’s school district in effectively managing its budget: “All of our schools have a full-time registered nurse, because we have so little health care for children,” she reported. “We’ve kept sports. We have smaller class sizes. We have had a lot of cuts, and I’m not sure exactly how they’ve managed everything, but it’s not showing up in our classrooms.” The school even has a music program. There are certainly genuine and justifiable concerns affecting the decisions of school administrators throughout America. However, there are also acceptable solutions that will enable schools to succeed in meeting standardized testing requirements while still preserving valuable aspects of education, particularly music education.
Financial deficits create many challenges for school administrators. Many schools, though, such as the one in Live Oak, Florida mentioned previously, have shown that there are ways to accommodate beneficial school programs while staying within a limited budget. What are your thoughts about this issue? How do you feel schools can find this balance?