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State Lawmakers Urged To Back Goals 2000, Arts

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Washington

While a Congressional committee met on Capitol Hill last week to discuss the federal role in education, state legislators heard testimony across town about the important role of the arts in education.

Educators, policymakers, and members of the arts-education community urged the state lawmakers to express their support for the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to their U.S. representatives, and to advocate inclusion of the arts in local school curricula.

"Congress needs to know what you expect with regards to Goals 2000," said Alan Morgan, the superintendent of public instruction in New Mexico, "or we are likely to see this legislation, and particularly funding, placed in severe jeopardy."

By including the arts among its core content areas, the Goals 2000 law represents "a major turning point for the arts," said Rebecca Hutton, the executive director of the National Dance Association.

Fostering Reform

The National Conference of State Legislatures called the hearing here last week in conjunction with the annual conference of the Getty Center for Education in the Arts.

State Sen. Penny Williams of Oklahoma, who was chairwoman of the session, said its chief purpose was to examine how the arts foster education reform and school restructuring.

State Reps. Cisco McSorley of New Mexico and Matt Dunne of Vermont, for example, pressed the witnesses to provide them with solid evidence to buttress arguments that arts education advances student achievement and lessens violence, among other positive results.

As politicians, "we need to see tangible evidence," Representative Dunne said.

The state lawmakers heard plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Karen Evans, the education director of Arena Stage, a Washington, D.C., theater company, and the granddaughter of a tenant farmer who could not read, recalled her first exposure to the theater.

She said that in 1967, at the age of 13, she and her classmates received free tickets to Arena Stage's production of the play, The Inspector General.

"It changed my life," Ms. Evans said.

"One free ticket for one black child 25 years ago was a worthwhile investment for Arena Stage," she added. "Can you imagine the value of the investment of Goals 2000?"

Fearing for the Arts

The hearing of state legislators was held at the same time as another hearing before the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities.

Although the topic of the Congressional hearing dealt with the overall federal role in education, the chairman of the committee, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., has said he intends to review the Goals 2000 law and national academic standards for K-12 students in the next few months.

But arts education may have more at stake than some of the other disciplines, participants at the hearing noted.

Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, both major supporters of the arts, are endangered federal agencies.

That possibility was brought home at the meeting of state lawmakers when Scott Sanders, the deputy chairman of the N.E.A., responded to a question about exposing children in rural areas to the arts.

When Ms. Sanders said that public broadcasting was developing a distance-learning arts-education program, the audience buzzed.

"If it's still around," one observer called out.

Meanwhile, the arts educators and their allies are pushing ahead on getting music, visual arts, dance, and theater into school curricula.

Curriculum Efforts

Ms. Sanders announced that the N.E.A. and the U.S. Education Department will support a three-year partnership with more than 100 organizations to implement a plan to promote arts education in the schools.

The two federal agencies will help pay for the partnership's basic operations. Special projects will be financed through private contributions.

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