In hard economic times, arts education programs often falls victim to budget cuts in favor of other subjects like math and science. Even in strong economic times, arts are denigrated as a distraction from learning skills that will get students hired after graduation.
The story of arts education programs in Chicago is a fascinating example of a school system is trying to rescue and revive its arts curriculum from decades of budget cuts, sequestration, and layoffs.
The national budget crisis in 1979 forced Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to shorten the school day and lay off nearly all of its art teachers.
Through the 1990’s Chicago schools began partnering with local arts organizations to bring arts back into the fold. Pegasus Players Theatre, for example, joined with a neighborhood chamber of commerce and a library to integrate arts into four local schools. Since the artists have been at these schools, test scores have risen steadily, according to the Lakeview Education and Arts Partnership.
The recession of 2008 brought new woes. Over 1,000 Chicago teachers were laid off when CPS closed over 50 schools. Nearly 10 percent of those laid off taught art or music.
School districts across the country responded to similarly strained budgets by slashing arts education while preserving subjects like math, reading, and science.
In 2012, Chicago created the Arts Education Plan (AEP) with the goal of creating a policy and programming blueprint that would increase access, equity and quality of arts education for CPS students. The AEP began awarding grants for art teacher training and mandated that every elementary school should provide two hours of arts instruction per week.
CPS then introduced legislation that incorporated the arts as a core subject, effectively protecting it from budget cuts that have traditionally minimized or ignored its positive effect on student performance and well-being.
More help came in 2013 when President Obama responded to sequestration by both restoring federal funding for arts organizations and instituting a 4.5% increase in arts funding above pre-sequestration levels.
Arts education funding in Chicago has risen to become a cause celebre in a national political debate that has attracted exciting attention from celebrities looking to bolster art programs in schools. In 2017, CPS graduate, Chance the Rapper, donated $10,000 to 12 neighborhood schools. The Chicago Bulls supplemented Chance’s donation with a $1 million gift of their own.
CPS arts education still battles budget difficulties, but generous individuals and organizations have used it to popularize the importance of art for young people that will hopefully extend far beyond Chicago schools.
It remains critical to raise awareness of art’s ability to improve achievement in other subjects, increase attendance, and lower dropout rates for students whose minds don’t naturally take to math and science.
Few things will benefit more from these efforts than art education in Chicago, and IPaintMyMind is proud to be one of the local arts organizations that helps fill the need for art experiences and programming that are vital to a robust education.
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