But there is a grander vision.
The three R’s are irreplaceable. Without them, public education is useless. But that grander vision understands there is more to a well-rounded educational experience than the basic skills. That’s where programs such as arts education come in — and that’s one of the many areas of education in which the state must do a better job.
Last Friday, a story by Star reporter Laura Johnson detailed state Superintendent Tommy Bice’s budget proposal for $5 million in new funding for arts education. That’s a tall order, considering the usual reluctance by the state Legislature to approve new funding for anything. In this regrettable era of cutting state services and paying for education in the cheapest manner possible, our optimism for this project isn’t rock solid.
Nevertheless, this isn’t a fly-by-night idea that lawmakers and the state Board of Education should conveniently shun. It has strong merit. The $5 million request should be approved.
Don’t be swayed by those who feel liberal arts programs such as drama, choir and the visual arts aren’t important. They are. Students are as different as snowflakes; some embrace science and math while others are whizzes at English and history. There is no universal template.
Arts education opens doors for creative students who have interests or talents in singing, dancing or creating images. It can keep students interested in school, and it can plant a seed in students that doesn’t fully take root until they select their major in college.
As Johnson’s story showed, schools throughout Calhoun County don’t have the resources to pay for arts education classes. Those that do offer a limited number of visual arts programs often do so through after-school or supplemental programs.
Then there’s Oxford High School — the exception. Funded amply by the city’s sales-tax base, Oxford offers classes in a wide range of visual and performance arts that dwarf most others. Salaries and benefits for those programs’ eight teachers are nearly $500,000.
If arts programs weren’t important, Oxford wouldn’t spend almost half-a-million dollars a year on them.
Or, as Jacksonville Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell told The Star, “I feel that the arts are very important and that’s on my short list of things to add back as funds become available. We welcome any additional funding for the arts … I think we could use it very wisely to build on what we already have.”
Ahead is an opportunity for Alabama to make yet another decision about public education: Do we value it? Will we invest in it? Or will we continue to pay schools’ light bills and not much else?