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When Save The Music started in 1997, music education funding cuts in public schools were on the rise. School boards and superintendents often cited economic strain as a justification for schools cutting music programs from the regular schedule and relegating music and the arts to after school or enrichment programs.

Looking at the music education funding landscape twenty-five years later, we can see that music education budget cuts disproportionately impact school districts that serve students of color, immigrant students and low-income communities. According to the most recent federal data, a majority of students in the U.S. have access to music education as part of their school day. The approximately 7,000 schools without music programs are predominantly in school districts that serve black, immigrant and low-income student populations.

In our experience at Save The Music, most people understand the benefits of music programs in public schools intuitively, and many are aware of the research that has shown investment in music education funding drives positive student and school outcomes – including better attendance, academic performance, teacher satisfaction and student social-emotional skills like confidence and focus.

So why does music education funding remain at risk when school districts face budget pressures? Looking at research compiled by Americans for the Arts, there are two principal factors at play for why music programs are being cut:

1. Music education funding cuts continue to be an option for school districts that have weak programs and a lack of parental support, leading to chronic underfunding.

2. Schools cutting music programs have led to music education funding being inequitable.

Music education funding cuts continue to be a go-to option for school districts in times of crisis, leading to chronic underfunding.

Music Education Budget Cut Statistics

From 2008-2009 during the Great Recession, public school per-pupil spending decreased by approximately seven percent across the country. Because of this, districts all over the nation saw severe declines in their art and music offerings; in Georgia, for example, 42 percent of schools removed art and music because of the Recession. Even though it is too soon to have comprehensive information on how COVID-19 will impact public school arts education, many districts have already witnessed programs cut and arts educators laid off due to budget limitations. This has been used as justification to explain why music education should be cut from schools.

Schools cutting music programs have led to music education funding being inequitable.

In 2018, the US Department of Education published an academic outcomes report that found that “white students earned more credits in fine arts (2.0 credits) than Asian students (1.8 credits), and both groups earned more credits than Hispanic students (1.6 credits) and Black students (1.5 credits).” The next year, a longitudinal study following a diverse sample of over 30,000 students revealed that “black students, males, those with disabilities, those in poverty, and those not yet fully proficient in English are not getting the same opportunities for exposure to the arts in public middle schools as are other groups.” These studies indicate larger inequities and access gaps visible in both K-12 grades and the arts & culture industry in general.

Schools serving a higher number of students are more likely to see a deficit in program resources. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 Fast Response Survey System report, this is particularly true in schools with a population made up of impoverished children. For example, the report reads that from 2009 to 2010, “music instruction was offered in 89% of elementary schools with the highest poverty concentration compared with 97% for schools with the two lowest categories of poverty concentration.”

Lack of funding has rallied educators to fundraise to avoid schools cutting music programs, especially in urban areas. In 2017, 42% of music teachers who were polled by the Give A Note Foundation stated fundraising efforts were “essential to delivering an adequate music curriculum.” 58% of those surveyed in an urban setting reported fundraising was crucial to reducing the likelihood of budget cuts in music education. Additionally, 58% stated they felt fundraising helped “enrich” their program.

The Value of Music Education

Numerous studies have found that involvement in music programs from an early age can help hone motor, language, and communications skills, as well as influence brain plasticity. One study showed students who took four years of art and music courses scored over 90 points higher on the SAT compared to students who took one semester or less. Music can also lead to positive social bonds among peers, increased confidence, and a sense of responsibility. It also provides an outlet for creative expression.

Save The Music Foundation’s 5-year case study (2017-2021) in Newark, New Jersey, shows how an increase in music education funding – reversing years of music programs being cut from public schools – resulted in tangible academic and personal growth. With the assistance of local, state, federal, and private funding, Save The Music and our Newark partners were able to provide access to music education to approximately 98% of more than 35,000 students across 45 public schools in the area. 68% of teachers reported students improved their academic performance, while 94% of teachers noted improvement in social-emotional skills like “grit, perseverance, and teamwork.” Moreover, 94% of teachers reported increased academic engagement due to the program. Schools also observed increased attendance and improved ELA scores at measured schools.

Advocating for Equitable Music Education Funding

Save The Music Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to fostering music education access and raising awareness about the importance of music education. We partner with public school districts, donating grants for new musical instruments, technology, equipment, and other educational resources to limit the threat of music education budget cuts and stop schools from cutting music programs.

At Save The Music, we see our role as bringing national expertise, attention and funding to catalyze the powerful local music communities that exist across the U.S. Local communities can collaborate to prevent music programs being cut from public schools. School boards, educators, and families can work together to create sustainable music education funding through efforts such as advocacy, fundraising, donations, and grants for music programs and instruments.

Learn more here about how you can advocate for your community’s music education programming and build powerful tools to prevent the prospect of budget cuts in music education.

Encouraging parents and local businesses to get involved with fundraising efforts and to make donations can reduce music education cuts. Ideas include hosting a silent auction, gaining sponsorships from local businesses, hosting benefit concerts, and holding a raffle.

Educators can also participate in programs such as Hungry for Music, Spirit of Harmony Foundation, Guitars 4 Gifts, and Instruments in the Cloud to obtain instrument donations to boost student involvement.

Additionally, teachers and administrators can apply for private and public grants to avoid schools cutting music programs. By detailing how the money will benefit students, schools may be able to receive funding from charitable foundations, government agencies, or corporate giving programs.

Want to take action immediately? Here are 21 things you can do today to advocate for music education written by one of our very own staff members!