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Arts education funding unlikely to sway school budget voters


New Paltz, NY – New Yorkers are heading to the polls to vote on their school district's proposed budget for next year. Tight financial times have led to reduced spending in a number of districts statewide, but it hasn't changed the debate over funding for arts education. WAMC's Greg Fry reports...

The average property tax levy increase statewide is believed to be 3.4 percent for proposed 2011-2012 school district budgets. Last year, the average was at 3.2 percent. Districts are dipping into reserves, considering layoffs, and trying to find some balance between maintaining programs, and paying the bills.

This year's budget negotiations in districts included conversations ranging from cutting kindergarten, to cutting high school sports. One thing that doesn't appear to have changed is the conversation about funding for arts education, and potential cuts from elementary to high school. Jeremy Johannesen is the Executive Director of the New York State Alliance for Arts Education. He says the cuts have gotten worse over the past couple of years, with this year being the worst. Johannesen says there are districts, particularly in elementary schools, where music and art are being removed in greater proportions. He credits that to a lack of state requirements for certified teachers for the subjects.

Benjamin Krevolin is the President of the Dutchess County Arts Council, a non-profit arts organization in the Hudson Valley. He tells WAMC News that there hasn't been much conversation regarding severe cuts to arts programs in schools, adding that it speaks to a positive development and recognition that the arts make up an important skill-set.

Krevolin is seeing the effects of cuts tied in with his organization's grant programs, where school staff is needed to facilitate a particular art program. He says it's very difficult for teachers to take time to work with an artist or group to develop a program. He says principals are terrified to divert resources, even time for professional development. The result, Krevolin says, is that fewer schools are taking advantage of the programs.

Johannesen was asked what impact arts funding, and potential cuts, may have on voters heading to the polls today. He agrees that it may not be the first consideration for those casting a vote today, saying that it speaks to a greater cultural issue, and the value of arts within our society.

Johannesen says while times are tough, the damage that could be done could have an impact for decades. Polls are open across New York until 9:00.