Proposed Cuts to National Endowments and Libraries Raise Concerns for Education

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — March 16, 2017 6 min read
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When the White House released its proposed budget today, the fears of arts, humanities, and library advocates were realized: The budget proposes eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences altogether.

All three federal agencies fund and support informal and formal education programs across the country. The endowments, which each received about $148 million in fiscal year 2016, support K-12 education through grants and research. The IMLS receives $230 million and supports libraries and museums around the country.

President Donald Trump’s budget would also cut the Department of Education’s $68 billion budget by $9 billion. (Politics K-12 has more on the budget’s implications for the Education Department.)

The budget is available online here. The only mention of the endowments or the IMLS is on page 11, entitled Major Agency Budget Highlights. The agencies are included in a list of those slated to be eliminated.

In the budget’s introduction, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, writes that the budget is the result of “hard choices.”

“The President’s commitment to fiscal responsibility is historic,” he said.

Advocacy groups for arts and humanities education and for libraries and museums had launched campaigns to raise awareness about the agencies’ impact—and relatively small cost—earlier this year, when reports surfaced that the administration planned cuts. On Thursday, they announcedplans to redouble those efforts and emphasized that the ultimate fate of the budget rests with Congress.

“The funding that the NEA and NEH receive to date is a pittance compared to other programs but the impact of this funding is felt in every state and by artists, arts organizations, and the general public,” said Susan McGreevy-Nichols, the director of the National Dance Education Organization. “If the NEA and NEH are eliminated, Americans in every corner of the nation will lose vital access to arts education, arts jobs, and the everyday arts experiences that shape our communities, nation, and world.”

“Our attention now turns to Congress, which has the ability to fund these programs despite the administration’s proposals,” said Stephen Kidd, the director of the National Humanities Alliance, in a statement. Kidd described the cuts as an “assault on a wide range of humanities programs” that support a range of activities, including teaching and research.

Both endowments have been favorite targets of conservatives concerned about spending and, occasionally, about the content of programs funded by the federal government, but no president has suggested eliminating them in a budget proposal.

Elimination of Endowments

As federal officials, the chairs of the endowments do not lobby or advocate for their programs. But both expressed disappointment at the budget plan, and highlighted the fact that the endowments fund programs across the country.

In a statement, William D. Adams, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said: “We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good over its 50-year history. But as an agency of the executive branch, we answer to the president and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Therefore, we must abide by this budget request as this initial stage of the federal budget process gets underway.”

Adams highlighted some of the NEH’s programs, including one that allows students to access the papers of George Washington. “Through these projects and thousands of others, the National Endowment for the Humanities has inspired and supported what is best in America,” he wrote. He said in the statement that the endowment will continue usual operations.

Jane Chu, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said in a statement that the endowment is “disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban, and rural, and in every Congressional district in the nation.” Chu also noted that as a federal agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, but she said that she expected discussion about the future of the endowments among advocates for the arts.

Advocates for the Arts noted that Congress doesn’t necessarily support the president’s proposed budget. Robert L. Lynch, the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said in a statement that “the administration’s budget proposal stems from tired old ideas that show a lack of understanding of the important role that the NEA plays in America today. This thinking could not be more misguided.”

Jim Palmarini, the policy director for the Educational Theatre Association, said that cuts would exacerbate inequities in who has access to the arts.

“It’s really quite profound,” he said. “It just means that we’re going to further create a ‘have and have-not’ society in terms of who has opportunity to engage in art education. Those who have resources to ensure that students get those experiences, they’ll get it. Those who don’t, won’t.”

He said that arts education would also suffer as a result of cuts to after-school programs funded through the endowments and other education department programs. Many schools where arts programs had been cut in the regular school day in recent years had offered the arts through such programs.

Library Cuts

The Institute of Museum and Library Services provides funds for many programs that touch public schools, including a STEM initiative, an early-learning program, and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Kathryn K. Matthew, the director of the IMLS, said in a statement that the IMLS supports libraries and museums in every state and territory. “The institutions we serve provide vital resources that contribute significantly to Americans’ economic development, education, health, and well-being...Our agency’s support enables museums and libraries to offer learning experiences for students and families, as well as to increase care for, and access to, the nation’s collections that are entrusted to museums and libraries by the public.”

Advocates for libraries and museums announced plans to advocate for the agency. In a statement, Julie Todaro, the president of the American Library Association, said the proposal to cut the IMLS is “counterproductive and shortsighted.”

“America’s more than 120,000 public, school, college and university, and many other libraries aren’t piles of archived books,” Todaro said. “Libraries leverage the tiny amount of federal funds they receive through their states into an incredible range of services for virtually all Americans everywhere to produce what could well be the highest economic and social “ROI” in the entire federal budget.”

Social Media Outreach

On Thursday, #SavetheNEA was trending on Twitter. There were also numerous Tweets tagged #SaveIMLS and #SaveNEH.

President Donald Trump’s only comments on the budget on Twitter focused on security:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.