When the categorical funding line for arts education in the New York City Public Schools was eliminated, essentially to “empower the principals” and to increase the total budget available to each school, a good friend and colleague of mine who works for the local district said: “money is policy.”
Short and sweet – don’t ya think?
And let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about soft money, which tends to be relatively small and short-term.
We’re talking about good old fashioned tax levy money, real-deal school dollars. The kind that is in increasingly short supply
There are many who will take issue with this. The arguments against this statement center on money not necessarily changing anything for the long haul, and in the absence of more thoughtful structures that give context and meaning to the funding, the long-term intentions behind the change brought about by funding tend to be evanescent.
In other words, there will always be those who follow the dollars wherever they go.
In this particular case, the money we were talking about was a categorical funding line that was intended to incent arts education at the school level.
Principals could only spend the funds on hiring of certified arts teachers, arts supplies, and services of cultural organizations.
The money was never viewed nor intended as total arts spending, but rather as a lever of change, and perhaps most importantly, as a financial incentive that helped counter balance an educational industrial complex built on state test scores in language arts and math.
This is the important contextual piece to consider here, for a financial incentive would not be necessary if the scales weren’t so heavily tipped against arts education (and other non-tested subjects including physical education).
We spend a great deal of time at The Center for Arts Education working on our policy and legislative agenda. It has a rather Talmudic feel to it.
But one way or the other, unless and until the most fundamental policy changes take place in the area of accountability, we end up with what I have to call the homing pigeon of arts education policy: categorical funding programs that incentivize arts education at the school level.
But, there you have it, the policy debates and strategy discussions end up at the very same place: the need to provide financial incentives for school leaders, matched by programs and policies that help to provide and build quality instruction.
Is such funding the sole answer? Absolutely not. But, as my friend said, money is policy, and if you don’t believe it, take a good, hard look at the federal Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation Funds, for they prove my friend’s theory, big-time.