The New York City Council will announce a $3 million investment in arts instruction on Thursday, but schools only have the next few months to use it, setting the stage for another budget battle this year.
Principals at 120 selected schools will receive $24,300 each this term that could help undo last year’s budget cuts that left some arts programs in the editing room.
The educational initiative was included in the city budget last June, but it took most of the school year to establish itself. Still, advocates are hopeful the nascent program won’t be allowed to lapse as it gets off the ground and pushes for expansion.
“Arts and music have always been seen as extra,” said Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), a former punk musician, who had expected to announce the funding at PS 264 Bay Ridge School of the Arts on Thursday morning. “If something has to be cut, it is the first thing to be cut. We’re trying to get away from that.”
Funds can be used to support art programs in schools, professional development for art teachers, partnerships with local arts and cultural organizations, and field trips to museums and performances.
The schools span all grade levels and were selected based on geography, enrollment and access to arts education, according to the New York City Roundtable on Arts in Education, a membership group of teaching artists. and non-profit organizations that work with city schools.
About two-thirds of the schools receiving the funds are in Brooklyn and Queens, a Daily News analysis of budget data showed. There is at least one participating program in every community school district, with the most in districts 17 (Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush) and 25 (Flushing, College Point).
Advocates argue that the investment is crucial as more than two-thirds of city managers have reported that their funding for the arts was insufficientaccording to a city survey.
“Arts education is the launching pad for success in schools and in life,” said Kim Olsen, executive director of the Arts in Education Roundtable. “Students develop life skills like collaboration, confident speaking and creativity that they may not have the opportunity to develop elsewhere.”
But only 34% of high school graduates meet a state Department of Education requirement to take courses in at least two different art disciplines taught by a certified art teacher, according to pre-pandemic city data. And 3 in 10 schools no longer partner with arts or cultural organizations.
“Our hope is that this is something that we can develop and introduce to more schools over time,” Olsen said.
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Schools are already coming up with creative ways to use the funds, such as programs that teach environmental justice through the visual arts or about indigenous cultures through their arts curriculum, according to the Arts in Education Roundtable. Other principals are investing in steel drums or integrating the arts into first grade fairy tale lessons.
“We know that every child in our city deserves access to a world-class arts education that fosters creativity, builds empathy, and prepares students for academic and personal success,” said Council Member Rita Joseph (D-Brooklyn), chair of the education committee “We are one step closer to making that vision a reality thanks to this new funding.”
City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) called the investment “a lifeline for public school arts programs, ensuring they have the resources to give students the high-quality, enriching experience they they deserve”.
In a particularly high-profile incident last year, a Brooklyn music teacher was fired after 17 years by PS 39, which lost its entire music program as a result of budget cuts. He, along with the parents and another teacher, sued to reverse the damages, but the cuts were upheld on appeal.
Brannan told the Daily News that the initiative is a first step toward a larger goal of requiring $100 per student for arts education. Currently, the Department of Education recommends that schools spend $79 on each student, although principals do not have to follow that guidance.
“I know how important arts education is in public schools,” said Brannan, who played guitar in the hardcore punk band Indecision. “For me, I learned three guitar chords in McKinley High Schooland gave me 10 years of touring the world in a band; those were the only lessons I took.”
“The way I see it is once we’ve pushed this uphill once, we’re not going to stop,” he added. “We want this to be built into the DOE budget.”