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Springtime School Budget Season – The Most Complicated Time of the Year

Mary Leuhrsen • Best Tools for Schools • July 24, 2015

(c) Rob DavidsonAs a music education advocate and strategist, I find the spring school budget season my most worrisome time of the year, because this is when districts lay out budget proposals for the next school year (my next most worrisome season is late summer when districts that have discretion to adjust expenses sometimes reduce funding to music education programs). Since it is now officially summer, we are almost out of the woods in terms of the preparation, review, and voting that occurs on school budgets for the upcoming school year.

During school budget season, spreadsheets are a-humming with calculations of where to allocate funds – and how much is available – from federal, state, and local sources.  Planners must consider what the costs of all education expenses will be, including building improvements, maintenance, salaries (administrative and teachers), and other costs for meeting education needs in the district. If there are any weaknesses in support for music education and the importance of its place in the core curriculum, it will show up during this process.  Of course, this isn’t the only time that deficits in support for music education are revealed; changes in provisions for music education can happen with individual school principal shifts or adjustments to district management policy (i.e. from district-wide to site-based).  But the spring school budget preparation and review process is telling, because it is an annual check on how solid the support for music education actually is, because like it or not, education policy and priorities have a direct relationship to what is supported financially.   

At the same time this important school and community fiscal accounting and planning takes place, music education programs are peaking with spring concerts and student festivals.  These events highlight the culmination of students’ learning in music education as performances are shared with schools and the wider community. These are highly anticipated and well-attended events where student accomplishments are embraced and celebrated.  The output of many, many school music, theater, visual arts, and dance programs at these springtime events illicit awe, praise, tears of joy, and pride from parents and the larger community.  I’ve attended many of these events over the years, as I know many NAMM members have, and the demonstration of outstanding music curriculums can literally bring one to tears.

So, why do I get so nervous each spring? Even with all of the remarkable concerts, festivals, and musical events that demonstrate the benefits of music education, a budget-solution short cut remains in play to save funds by reducing school music and arts programs.  This is a very old play and outdated when the needs of students are considered. Many forward-looking district and community leaders, school administrators, teachers, and parents are expanding and redeveloping music education curriculum based on their convictions that music education is not optional, but essential for all students; that its inclusion in the core curriculum is what is best for students.    

As the spring budget season comes to a close here are a few advocacy pointers to ponder:

If you learn about potential cuts to music education funding during spring school budget time, you are too late! Local music education advocates must be vigilant about school budget funding all year long by attending school board meetings and working with other school music supporters to make sure that access to music education is available to all children in your school or district. 

Share and celebrate music education in your district and community all year long: 

  • Host beginners’ first concerts (have a school board member serve as narrator for “First Performance” – a remarkable celebration of beginning instrumental music students available through the Music Achievement Council at www.nammfoundation.org). 
  • Host back-to-school music class demonstrations where parents engage in hands-on music learning and experience the depth of music learning available to their children.
  • Share student outcomes and celebrate student learning in music with friends, family, and customers at every opportunity all year long – the greater community craves this good news!
  • Form a local music education support network; start where you are and work as a school and community coalition that monitors, celebrates, and supports music education. A relentlessly positive and proactive advocacy effort all year long will help all of us be less nervous during spring school budget season.

For more music education advocacy pointers and to share what you are doing to support music education programs, send me a Tweet @MaryLNAMM  

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