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Budget cuts lead to dissonance in school music programs

When it comes to balancing school budgets, the arts—and particularly music—often suffer most from spending cuts. It’s part of a cycle that began in the 1970s, when, in the hope of averting a fiscal crisis, schools laid off thousands of arts teachers.

Limited grants and community-based efforts have helped to rebuild programs over the years, although the battle has often been one-step-forward, two-steps-back.

Consequently, many school music programs have either ended or are left having to do much more with much less. More than 1.3 million elementary school students across the country do not have access to a music class, according to the Children’s Music Workshop.

The well-tempered student

Cuts continue even though there is strong evidence that the arts contribute to a complete education.

For example, data from The College Board shows that in 2015, students who took four years of arts and music classes while in high school scored an average of 92 points higher on their SATs than did students who took only one-half year or less.

Nevertheless, many administrators choose to allocate resources to college and career readiness programs rather than to fund a concert band or to offer trumpet lessons.

No-win situation

An alternative for some districts has been to combine music classes, sometimes among several schools.

But that’s a no-win situation, says Jim Mooy, a music instructor at Santa Barbara City College who has taught K12 music in the Santa Barbara district.

“Imagine a PE program that schedules boys and girls varsity and junior varsity football, soccer and baseball teams on the same field, at the same time,” Mooy says. “Jazz, marching, concert and string programs cannot be combined. There isn’t literature composed for these kinds of ensembles.”

And mixing beginners with advanced students only serves to intimidate the beginners and bore the advanced students.

“The advanced students are not there to teach a beginner how to finger a B-flat,” Mooy says. “They are there to push themselves and improve as students.”