Mr. Lawson Goes to Washington

Mike Lawson • Perspective • June 20, 2017

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This issue we present the 17th annual School Band and Orchestra Essay Contest winners and their essays.

The students come from all over the United States, from the west coast of California to the northeast of Connecticut and Massachusetts, down through the grain belt of Indiana to the deep south of Alabama. The common thread in all of these essays is that music has entered these young lives because of their parents, and because of their school music teachers. School music programs are critical to our culture, to our children’s development on multiple levels, and for the first-time music is now part of a “well-rounded curriculum” as mentioned in the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the much-panned No Child Left Behind Act. Last month, I joined a group of over 100 music educators, instrument manufacturers, publishers, and others brought together again by the NAMM Foundation to visit the U.S. Capitol where I met with a senator’s aide and a congressman, both from my home state, Tennessee. We were there, coincidentally, on the same day, the President announced his budget proposal to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives. That’s a scary plan because the “ESSA” funding was to be up to $1.6 billion in and of itself.

Of course, the president’s budget is merely a wish-list, a starting place to let Congress know the temperature of the water before they dive in and send their spending bill. The representatives I met with while advocating for full funding of the ESSA with our delegation from Tennessee, assured us that they intend to see to it that this law is funded at “some” amount. It is temporarily funded at $400 million through September. Neither office I visited would guarantee the full $1.6 billion. They can’t individually. They sought to reassure us that they had not voted to pass a new law with such bipartisan support, only to never fund it, so it never has a chance to have the intended impact. Time will tell what they will do. Hopefully, they heard from enough people that day, and even others who came behind us in the following weeks from NAfME, to understand that music education is important to students, and their parents who vote. Bottom line, they still need to hear from you, and timing is everything.

The election is over. Whether “your side” won or lost the election is moot. Now it is all about making sure that a hard-fought battle to get the arts and music education finally officially recognized as part of a well-rounded education in federal law is funded. Now is the time to make sure that your representatives hear your voice as they prepare the budget. My experience visiting the Capitol tells me that emails are not as useful when contacting your representatives. Phone calls won’t make as big of an impact, either, but they are still better than emails. And those online petitions? They might make you feel good, but they don’t carry much weight, from what I observed.

The best thing you can do is to schedule an in-person meeting with your representative, or their aides, at your nearest office. If you’re ambitious and want to make a trip of it, schedule one in their Washington, D.C. offices, and get a first-hand look at the inside of the U.S. Capitol and all that surrounds it. Take your students, bring your kids who enjoy music classes. Get your student’s parents from the booster club to go. In fact, it might just be an excellent project for your boosters, to handle setting up contacts and visits with your House and Senate representatives, in person. If you can’t make it in person to either office, and I had to suggest the best methods for contacting your representatives, I’d say; first, a good old hand-written (or at least signed) letter sent through the U.S. Mail. Next, believe it or not, I’d say sending a fax like it’s still the 1990’s works second best to a paper-printed, hand-signed letter. No land line or fax machines? Use eFax or some other online faxing service.

As a former school music student, and a parent of once-upon-a-time school-aged music students in public schools, I can’t even imagine going to school without a music program. As editor of SBO, I meet a lot of music education heroes from all over the spectrum, those who have to teach everything music in multiple schools, to those who get to direct a single type of band, orchestra or concert band. Common threads: we love music, and we love teaching our kids to make it. The budget season is upon us. If you want to help ensure your programs have the funds they need, write those letters, and schedule those meetings. Let me know if you want me to go with you!


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