Sounds of Budget Ax Falling

By Nesoff, Elizabeth | The Christian Science Monitor, August 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Sounds of Budget Ax Falling


Nesoff, Elizabeth, The Christian Science Monitor


When Albert Margolis and his wife attended the final music program for their son's kindergarten class in May, they were shocked when a teacher stood up after the performance and announced that the music program was cut indefinitely.

"She was almost in tears, actually, that this had to happen," Mr. Margolis says. That Adam's school, Bathgate Elementary School in Mission Viejo in California's affluent Orange County, is a magnet school for the arts makes the cut even more startling.

"If I had known that this was coming, I would have done something sooner," he says.

Bathgate's situation is not unique. All over the country, school districts are facing tight budgets and rigorous testing mandates that force them to cut non- academic programs. There is no way to count the number of music programs eliminated because each school district tackles its budget differently, but such whittling is rampant.

"It's a state-by-state and district-by-district story tied directly to school budgets and school quality," says Mary Luehrsen, director of public affairs and government relations for NAMM, the International Music Products Association. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that where there's no quality of education, there's probably not a music program."

Budget woes have caused school districts to weigh the arts against desirable amenities such as smaller class sizes. In addition, state testing standards and the No Child Left Behind Act force school districts to focus time and resources on core subjects. "Music education programs get cut because decent people are trying to make tough decisions in hard times," says Michael Blakeslee, deputy executive director of the National Association for Music Education. "However, you can't cut music without cutting something important out of kids' lives."

Yet the problem is not as straightforward as state deficits or testing. "It's safe to say that the fiscal environment in which people provide education is a tighter, more difficult environment than it was 20 years ago," says John Augenblick, president of a consulting firm that works with state policymakers on school- funding issues. "Rather than seeing a school as serving a community purpose, it's much easier to view it as only serving particular people at a particular time in a particular place."

Mr. Augenblick cites a lack of cohesive community concern for education and a greater focus on individual interests as part of the problem, namely that people without children are not always interested in funding school programs.

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