You can find the Wanette School District about 30 miles southeast of Norman in rural Oklahoma. For about as long as anyone can remember, the juniors and seniors at the high school had a dedicated art teacher who was there five days per week. It was an opportunity to sketch, paint, or even learn ceramics.
That all changed when the art program was cut from the district. Instead of creating art every day, now the only option for these students is to study the history of art online. Most students choose to take something else.
Over 1,000 arts programs were ended in Oklahoma between 2014 to 2018, including the one at the Wanette School District. Some teachers are trying to implement new classes in their free time, but up to 30% of students are now attending classes at a place where there is no access to the arts.
When we take a look at the pros and cons of cutting art programs in schools, it is clear to see that this action deepens the pre-existing inequalities that already divide urban and rural districts. It also widens the gap between the wealthy institutions and the poor ones.
List of the Pros of Cutting Art Programs in Schools
1. It reduces the staffing needs that rural districts have for the arts.
The drop in art education affects some school districts more than others. Most states, including Oklahoma, find that it is the rural locations and low-income facilities that are impacted the most by budget cuts to this subject. Although a shrinking budget is an oft-cited factor for this action, there is also the problem of recruiting certified teachers for the subject. Today’s students that go into teaching programs aren’t headed out to the rural districts. That means it can be challenging to find someone who can run a program.
2. It can improve the budget for the school district.
There is a real money factor to consider when looking at an arts program and the benefits that happen by cutting it. If you take the average cost of a program per school and apply it to a somewhat small district like Monroe, WI, there are a total of five programs that would require oversight from teachers. That means you’re multiplying the $150,000 by 5, and that becomes an unwieldy number for most districts. Athletics can bring in money, sponsorships, and more. Arts – and music – typically bring funds when the school charges activity fees to parents.
The economics of art classes is that the cost of supplies is significantly higher than it is for what students need to have to learn mathematics. When you include the push for more STEM services, the choice often becomes keeping art or paying for the new science, technology, and engineering structures – so the latter often wins.
3. Cutting arts programs equalizes the playing field.
When rich and poor school districts are all cutting arts programs, then it creates more of an equal opportunity for students. This advantage is not always looked at in positive ways, but it does stop the problem of having larger districts providing more opportunities to students than the smaller ones.
Librarian Brenda Roberts in Wanette said that there used to be grant money for taking the entire high school to the art museum in Oklahoma City. Then they took them to museums in smaller Norman. All of those funds dried up. Without this structure, kids from rural or poor schools would struggle to find employment opportunities in cultural or creative positions because there is no way to compete with those who actually received an education.
4. Art is not a required course to take.
Unless a student plans to pursue an undergraduate degree or higher in an artistic field, taking classes in this creative subject at the high school level or below is not mandatory. Most colleges are going to look at a child’s grades, athletic achievements, club activities, and extracurricular work to determine their merits for entry. Even when a class is present, fewer students often take it. That creates a better student-teacher ratio, but it can also create the appearance of paying a teacher an unequal amount of money since there are fewer contacts to manage throughout the day.
List of the Cons of Cutting Art Programs in Schools
1. Arts programs contribute to higher levels of economic growth.
The arts and culture industry of the United States supports almost 5 million jobs each year. It is a community that also produces a $26 billion trade surplus that benefits local American economies. Cutting the money to art programs in schools might seem like it can help to balance a budget, but it only creates short-term benefits. When children are not given the opportunity to express their creative intelligence, then there are fewer success stories that come out of school. Reading, writing, and math are just as important as art.
2. Early childhood arts programs provide high returns.
Programs that contribute to early childhood education opportunities are essential investments for the success of the next generation. It presents one of the highest returns of any public sector investment made in the United States. When there is $1 invested into programs that support art and culture for today’s youth, then an $8 economic return occurs. Over 80% of the benefits that come from this advantage of art programs benefit the public directly.
Art programs are another source of language acquisition and education, especially for younger children. It benefits communities with low or middle incomes the most. When children receive exposure to these programs, then it can cut into the natural disadvantages that exist because of their socioeconomic status.
3. The annual budget for art programs in schools is surprisingly small.
The average annual program budget for art classes in the United States at public schools is around $150,000. The median budget when looking at all districts was $84,000. Most districts only need to have one art teacher per school, which means this resource can stretch further than most administrators realize. Considering the cost to house one delinquent youth for a year is at least $20,000, taxpayers can save more if schools invest in these programs.
Even if the school must look at an after-school arts program, the estimated annual cost per student in the United States is only $1,000. That means each student who can attend these classes instead of going to a correctional facility can save a community at least $36,000 per year. That means you only need to save three students from delinquency to make the program pay for itself.
4. Art classes increase the chance that a low-income student can go to college.
Professor James Catterall of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies found that regular participation in art classes can raise SAT scores by an average of 91 points. It can also improve the coordination between the brain’s hemispheres for students in the K-12 public school. His work shows that low-income students with courses in the arts are more likely to attend college and do well there. It also improves the opportunities to find meaningful employment, vote in elections, and seek out volunteer options.
Arts encourage students to stay in school when they might otherwise choose to leave. It gives them an opportunity to embrace different traditions and cultures. It nourishes the problem-solving skills needed for today’s complex environments.
5. It stops the development of empathy and tolerance.
One of the primary reasons why our society today may be more intolerant and polarized than ever before is because there are fewer fine arts classes available. A study produced by the University of Arkansas in 2014 found that young people who receive exposure to creative classroom environments have more tolerance and empathy for those around them. This outcome corresponds with other research that shows students that have consistent access to the arts have lower dropout rates from school.
Arts, music, and other creative classes don’t show up on the standardized tests that schools and the government use for funding and placement. That’s actually the point. If you are going to teach a child to be a well-rounded adult, then that approach must start with how we structure their education.
6. Arts classes can serve as a form of inspiration for students.
Exposure to the arts is proven to be a form of expression and inspiration for students who find themselves in at-risk situations. This issue is especially prevalent in inner-city schools, providing an opportunity to improve that child’s outlook on their education. One of the reasons why kids choose to stay when they would otherwise drop out is because the arts program provides a supportive environment to work. It is a structure that promotes constructive acceptance, including critiques of creative efforts, while still making it a safe place for students to be bold with their risk-taking ventures.
7. The presence of art classes can improve standardized test scores.
School districts that start cutting art classes to throw money at the standardized test subjects often find that their scores still go down. When children receive time in art education, then there are boosts to their final testing scores. The College Board discovered that a student who takes four years of classes can achieve grades that are 10% better on these tests.
There is a specific reason why this outcome occurs. When children have the opportunity to channel negative emotions into something positive, then it gives them an opportunity to express themselves in ways that teach coping mechanisms. It is impossible to measure what the arts and music can teach a child.
8. Creative careers are still possible in today’s world.
Art can take on many forms. It took creative writing classes in college to help produce the content and structure of what you’re reading right now. Music can spark a child’s interest in an instrument, giving them an opportunity to travel the world while supporting themselves. These careers create a chance to be open to learning about new people and experiences to the point where acting, graphics design, or computer coding becomes better because of the visual approaches that these classes require.
Instead of focusing on what is being tested all of the time, school rankings should be focused on other metrics. We cut art because we’re testing for reading, math, and science. What if we could create an artistic standardized test that would also impact the ratings that schools receive for student performance?
9. Art stimulates a different part of the brain.
Arts and music stimulate a different part of the child’s mind that might not be used at home. Language and mathematics retention is possible when combined with art and music lessons. When you cut out half of the equation, then you’re removing that part of the child’s potential. Learning how to read music or paint in a specific way is just like learning a new language. Even poems that rhyme or artistic works with patterns create unconscious learning opportunities that are worth exploring.
10. It may cause some students to never receive exposure to the arts.
When low-income and rural school districts decide to cut their art programs, then it may create a chain of events where a student is never introduced to these subjects. Cutting these programs in affluent areas transfers the responsibility to private lessons and charitable providers. Rural families don’t have that option, or if they do, the choices are limited and the quality of results questionable.
Some families cannot afford Crayons, much less an instrument rental that costs $40 per month or more. Giving kids an opportunity to escape into a creative world while at school, even if it is for just a few moments, may offer a lifetime of benefits that is worth considering.
Local museums, outside programs, and non-profit agencies are working to fill in the gaps being left by arts programs cut from local schools. The reasons for those cuts vary, including a misinterpretation that these programs are optional or unnecessary. It can be a misguided reaction to poor results on standardized testing.
Some communities even see no value in arts to the workforce or a person’s education. Programs are more in trouble today than ever before despite the overwhelming data that shows clear connections between success and studying the arts.
The best step that parents can take if they don’t want their arts program to disappear is to create an advocacy plan. This proactive option will let you provide the first steps to approach the people who have the most influence on the school budget. When you can respond quickly to the idea of cuts with critical pros and cons like these, then there is a better opportunity to save the plan.
Arts advocacy requires more than angry cries and links to statistics. We must all become active members of our school boards, city councils, and legislatures to stop this trend of cutting classes. Our children deserve a future that teaches them creativity is essential. If we do not, then all of the problems we see today might get even worse for the next generation.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.