The New York City Council will announce a $3 million investment in arts instruction Thursday, but schools only have the next few months to use it — setting the stage for another budget battle this year.
Principals at 120 selected schools will get $24,300 each this term that could help undo budget cuts last year, which left some art programs on the cutting room floor.
The education initiative was included in the city budget last June, but took most of the school year to establish. Still, advocates are hopeful the nascent program won’t be left to expire as it gets off the ground and will push for its expansion.
“Arts and music have always been seen as extra,” said Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), a former punk musician, expected to announce the funding at P.S. 264 Bay Ridge School of the Arts on Thursday morning. “If something’s got to get cut, it’s the first thing to get cut. We’re trying to get away from that.”
Funding can be used to underwrite school-based art programs, professional development for art teachers, partnerships with local arts and cultural organizations, and field trips to museums and performances.
Schools span all grade levels and were selected based on geography, enrollment, and access to arts education, according to the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable, a membership group of teaching artists and nonprofits that work with city schools.
Close to two-thirds of schools receiving the funding are in Brooklyn and Queens, a Daily News analysis of budget data showed. There’s at least one participating program in each community school district, with the most in Districts 17 (Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and East Flatbush) and 25 (Flushing, College Point).
Advocates argue the investment is crucial as more than two-thirds of city principals have reported that their arts funding was insufficient, according to a city survey.
“Arts education is the launch pad for success in schools and life,” said Kim Olsen, executive director of the Arts in Education Roundtable. “Students build life skills like collaboration, speaking with confidence, and creativity, that maybe they don’t have the chance to develop elsewhere.”
But only 34% of middle school graduates meet a state Education Department requirement to take courses in at least two different arts disciplines taught by a certified art teacher, according to pre-pandemic city data. And 3 in 10 schools no longer partner with an arts or cultural organizations.
“Our hope is this is something we will be able to grow and introduce to more schools over time,” Olsen said.
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Schools are already coming up with creative ways to use the funding, such as programs that teach environmental justice through visual arts or about indigenous cultures through its arts curriculum, according to the Arts in Education Roundtable. Other principals are investing in steel pan drums or integrating arts into first grade lessons on fairy tales.
“We know that every child in our city deserves access to top-notch arts education that encourages creativity, develops empathy, and equips students for academic and personal success,” said Councilwoman Rita Joseph (D-Brooklyn), chair of the education committee. “We are one step closer to realizing that vision thanks to this new financing.”
City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) called the investment “a lifeline to public school art programs, ensuring they have the resources to provide students with the high-quality, enriching experience they deserve.”
In a particularly high-profile incident last year, a Brooklyn music teacher was let go after 17 years by P.S. 39, which lost its entire music program as a result of the budget cuts. He, alongside parents and another teacher, filed a lawsuit to reverse the damage but the cuts were upheld on appeal.
Brannan told the Daily News that the initiative is a first step in a larger goal of requiring $100 per pupil for arts education. Currently, the Department of Education recommends schools spend $79 on each student, though principals don’t have to follow that guidance.
“I know how important a public school arts education is,” said Brannan, who played guitar in the hardcore punk band Indecision. “For me, I learned three guitar chords at McKinley Junior High School, and it afforded me 10 years touring the world in a band — those were the only lessons I ever took.”
“The way I see it is once we’ve pushed this up the hill once, we’re not going to stop,” he added. “We want to get this built into the DOE budget.”