Thursday, October 1, 2009

The New Economy - Funding in Schools

Today's blog is going to be all questions and probably no answers. I ran into these questions because I am a member of the board of Moreno Valley Arts Council and part of our stated purpose to provide art enrichment in the schools in our neck of the woods. We do this by paying professional artists to spend a day teaching in the three schools in our area.

The charter high school recently asked us to triple our "involvement" in their arts program by funding a "road trip" to a theater competition where not only will the school be vying for awards but the students participating have the chance of getting scholarships.

Needless to say the proposal garnered some spirited e-mails (vote was required before our next scheduled in person meeting). And in the course of that debate it became clear because of cuts in funds in the school (this always gets taken out of "elective" or art funds) we would be getting more such requests.

The gross receipts tax or "sales tax" was begun originally as a way to fund schools. People are buying less ergo less sales tax and ergo less funds for schools. Some counties and states also partly fund schools through property taxes and bond issues. With more foreclosures I can only imagine there are less taxes being paid. Less new houses means less new property taxes. And hard strapped citizens in these trying economic times are not voting for new bond issues.

I had the advantage or disadvantage of going to schools in multiple states because my father was in the military. And most schools were decidedly no frills. Physical ed teacher was lucky to have balls and bats, arts education was paper mache and construction paper (I believe even then we bought our own paste), and music was most often choir. Band and band instruments did not appear until high school and parents provided my brother's coronet. Dad was considered a band supporter because he had access through work to a copier and made copies of sheet music. Special projects generally required a note asking parents for contributions in money or materials.

It would appear we are going back to those times, but parents have become used to schools and non-profit organizations such as MVAC to assist in these matters. Are we going to be able to do that? Is it time for the students to participate more fully in raising extra funds through talent shows and bake sales? There is much to be learned through fund raising activities. It forms a sense of group with common purpose and gets you away from the television.

I think arts and music and theater are very important. And they are not as expensive as having a football team and a bus to take you all around the state to play a game. If funds are going to be cut maybe we need to ask how important is football? Only 11 people get to play at a time. You can involve a lot students more constructively by putting on a play, building a stage set, prowing the thrift stores for costumes, reviewing music and producing a tape for the sound effects, etc.