Updated: Feb 7, 2021
By Steve Heil
Houston, we have a problem. Nobody allowed for a boost to art education as part of a major update and reboot of public schooling in New Mexico! In fact, state support for art education is suffering in three distinct ways, even though it plays a crucial role in equalizing opportunity across our diverse student population, as required by the Singleton 2018 ruling on the equitable funding lawsuits against the State of New Mexico.
The 2003 Fine Arts Education Act (FAEA), which has provided districts and charter schools’ reimbursement for K-6 students’ arts education programs, has reached nearly every district in the state. Art programs exist where they didn’t two decades ago because of the FAEA. But attempts have repeatedly failed to (1) increase funding levels since 2006, (2) keep districts accountable in spending on arts, and (3) assess arts learning for progress and advocacy.
1. Prioritizing Other Questionable Investments
A bill in the 2020 legislative session would increase funding for FAEA to match art funding with elementary physical education funding, an annual boost of less than 1/1000th of the overall education budget, less than $4 million spread across the state. House Bill 239 passed the House Education Committee on January 31st, but, as of February 9, 2020, it faces an uphill battle approaching the senate. Lawmakers seem to perceive HB 239 as too costly, yet its cost is less than a more popular bill to provide computer-based learning of “soft skills” to high school students. The prevailing preference seems to be for tech over teachers, virtual over reality.
2. Failing Oversight and Accountability
Even though FAEA dollars have flowed into each district’s or charter school’s operational funds based on the count of K-6 students, there has never been any teeth in the requirement to spend them on the arts. An informal survey of art teachers would generate a variety of anecdotes about FAEA funds being used for other educational expenses, from reading intervention to top-heavy administration. The process of budgeting and spending FAEA funds is too convoluted for most to follow. Yet the Public Education Department has never afforded more than one administrator to watch over arts programs in all of the districts and charter schools. Better oversight of FAEA-funded programs statewide would benefit students.
3. Evaporating Hopes of Valid and Reliable Assessment of Art Learning
I have always been a vocal critic of the validity and reliability of the End-of-Course Art Exams that the PED cooked up under the previous governor’s direction. They were inexpert, to be generous. Their impact on students and teachers was mixed at best, disastrous in some cases. But since 2018, there is no longer a plan to assess student art learning statewide at all, and that’s not progress. There is no longer even a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for art since it was discontinued by the DeVos administration at the federal level in 2019. Without state-level investment in developing and implementing a valid and reliable art assessment, art teachers lose all hope of advocacy with data bigger than their own classroom can provide. Quality art assessment may inform art teachers of the progress students are making toward meaningful learning outcomes and may help us better meet the needs of all of our students in art class. Quality art assessment also may showcase the real benefits of art education. We need to take statewide assessment seriously, not give up on the issue. We need to look at good models from around the world and figure it out for New Mexico.
I am a proud member of the NMAEA, which advances art education in New Mexico, serving on its Board of Directors and as Chair of the Assessment Committee. I also serve on the New Mexico Advisory Council on Arts Education, which has recently published a position statement calling attention to all three of the missing pieces of the moonshot and more to be done. In networks like these we can all work together to achieve sufficient and accountable arts education funding and show that all students can learn something new in art every day.