March 23, 2021

Live Testimony to Committee on Education

Reading Time:   3 mins

An abbreviated version of the following testimony was delivered by Kimberly Olsen, Executive Director

Thank you Chair Treyger and the Committee on Education for your leadership and commitment to arts education. My name is Kimberly Olsen, and I come to you as the Executive Director of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable.

The Roundtable is a service organization who builds its efforts around the values that arts are essential and that arts education is a right for all NYC students. Our 120+ member organizations have worked in long-standing partnership with the DOE to ensure that every child has access to quality arts learning.

As our city begins to rebuild and envision a post-pandemic era, it’s imperative that we invest in arts education as part of the city’s recovery process. The long term impact of COVID-19 on students and schools will take years to understand. However, the trauma, systemic racism, and lost instructional times are stark realities that students now face every day as they enter the classroom. The need for investment and equity in arts education access comes when the need for arts in our schools has never been more clear.

Studies show that participation in arts education translate to the development of social-emotional learning skills, including self-management, self-discipline, and relationship building. Student participation in the arts also leads to higher levels of social tolerance and civic engagement.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, arts are listed as a core arts subject and a part of a well-rounded education. Even before the pandemic, principals consistently cited budget constraints as the chief obstacle to providing arts education at their schools. While schools receive Arts Supplemental Funding through Fair Student Funding each year (SCHOOL ALLOCATION MEMORANDUM NO. 02, FY 2021), as of 2007, principals are not required to spend these funds directly on arts education. Without targeted funding in place, many arts programs have remained bare bones or been eliminated entirely as more money is needed to make up for other budget shortfalls.

We understand the tremendous financial impact of COVID-19, yet the lack of investment in Arts Education has been recurrent. Prior to the pandemic, 67% of principals noted funding for the arts is generally insufficient according the Arts in Schools Report Raw Data. Now in the current school year:

  • 22% certified arts teachers are spending more than half their time teaching in other subject areas to accommodate remote learning
  • 70% of funding for arts education services has been cut, directly impacting arts partnerships that support Students with Disabilities and Multilingual Learners

New York City is missing the opportunity to invest in authentic ways to build long-term social emotional competencies of youth living through these traumatic times. The city is missing the chance to instill in our youth the power of imagination and creativity, which are needed in not only art-based professions but in a myriad of careers including engineers, educators, health care professionals, and computer software designers. And the NYC DOE is failing to engage community partners and teaching artists primed to expand student opportunity and advance equitable access to arts learning. 

New York City has a rich array of cultural resources, including cultural institutions and teaching artists that unfortunately only play an important role in the lives and education of some of our students. As students re-enter the school community, these 449+ organizations are ready to partner with schools to nurture the creation of a welcoming school environment where students can express themselves in a safe, positive way. Beyond budget implications, persistent payment delays and a current freeze on contract renewals are impeding program delivery, curriculum development, and professional development. Organizations that submitted MTAC contracts in 2019 are left in the dark about the status of their now-expiring contracts and grow increasingly concerned about the impact this will have on payment for services rendered. 

This school year, and every subsequent year, the arts will be key to re-igniting students’ learning in the post-COVID-19 era and preparing them for success and joy in a complicated 21st century world. With that in mind, we believe the city must:

  • Restore the 70% cut to arts education services, which directly supports partnerships between schools and cultural organizations;
  • Change the Arts Supplemental Funding thru Fair Student Funding SAM from a recommendation to a requirement;
  • Prioritize funding the Office of Arts & Special Projects Strategic Arts Plan to close the equity gap and address high-quality arts instruction for all students.

Thank you for your time and consideration.