To the Editor:
Recent reforms to California’s school funding system have rightly been lauded by many educators, parents, and politicians in the Golden State. But it is essential that local school officials, who are exercising new autonomy via the revamped system, restore funding to an area hit early and often in the budget crisis: school music programs.
When the recession arrived in 2008, funding for music education evaporated. Within a year, legislators in Sacramento had diverted $109 million slated for music and art programs, forcing half of California’s public schools to shutter their music programs. As a result, there are now 700,000 fewer students enrolled in school music classes than before the budget cuts, with California ranking last in the nation in the ratio of music teachers to students.
It stands to reason that music education—as one of the first areas targeted when times got tough—should be among the first beneficiaries now that an economic recovery is afoot. But for that to happen, people have to realize that music programs are far more than a mere luxury.
In fact, the benefits of school music programs are well documented. Research shows that music education not only teaches critical-thinking and time-management skills that boost academic performance across the board, but that it also builds self-esteem, fosters collaboration, and offers a means of emotional and creative expression.
School music classes also improve language development, an important issue in California, where more than 40 percent of students live in homes where English is not the primary language.
Given these obvious benefits, it is incumbent on us to restore funding for music education to precrisis levels. Important steps have been taken at the state level, with legislators increasing overall funding and placing the California Arts Council donation box back on state income-tax forms. The responsibility now lies with local school officials to ensure that music education is accessible to our children for generations to come.
Leif M. Dautch
San Francisco, Calif.
The writer is a deputy attorney general in California’s department of justice, but this letter was not written in his official capacity.
A version of this article appeared in the February 05, 2014 edition of Education Week as Calif. Schools Need to Restore Music Education Programs