New Education Law Includes Key Arts Provisions!

December 10, 2015 (This is an update to our originally posted item from December 1, 2015)

A new education law, 14 years in the making - called the Every Student Succeeds Act - received bipartisan support from the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015. On the long road to re-writing what is currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act, orchestras have made contact thousands of times with Congress, in partnership with arts advocates nationwide, calling on policymakers to close gaps in access to arts education in our nation's public schools. Here are some early key highlights of the new law, which will be in effect for Fiscal Years 2017-2020:

  • Arts education advocacy at the state and local level will be more important than ever. The overall approach of the bill shrinks the federal role in education reform and hands more decision-making to the states.
  • The arts and music are included in a definition of a "well-rounded education" - a term that has replaced the current definition of "core academic subjects," which had included the "arts." The well-rounded education definition broadens the list of subjects and appears in provisions related to afterschool and expanded learning time, English language learners, literacy, and more. This means that advocates can encourage local and state education policymakers to use their federal funds in these areas to support arts and music education.

"WELL-ROUNDED EDUCATION.-The term 'well-rounded education' means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.''

  • Title I funds may be used for arts and music education, along with other subjects listed in the definition of a well-rounded education. States have increased discretion on the use of Title I funds, which are the largest pool of federal resources dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students.
  • The programs supported by the current Arts in Education fund are retained as a newly named "Assistance for Arts Education" fund. This is a significant win as many other small programs of this kind were eliminated in the new bill. The Arts Education fund includes national competitive grants to support partnerships among schools and community-based organizations.
  • Arts and music education are specified as eligible uses for new, state-administered "Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants." Local education agencies will apply to states for the funds and are asked to consult with community-based organizations and other public stakeholders when preparing their applications. Integrating the arts into STEM learning programs is also a specified area of eligibility for the new grants.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Center funding is maintained, and arts and music education are specified as eligible for support under "expanded learning time" provisions. Afterschool, out of school, and summer learning programs are key areas in which arts organizations partner with schools to support student learning in the arts.
  • Accountability requirements are more flexible. While tests in reading and math are still required under the new bill, states are given flexibility in incorporating other measures of student success - such as student engagement - into their accountability plans and are encouraged to use portfolio- and project-based assessment when measuring student learning, which may open the door to increased support of arts education strategies.

Thank you for the many, many efforts you have made to ensure that arts education is supported in the nation's new education law.
The League plays a leading role in advocating in Washington, D.C. on these issues. We will continue to keep you informed on next steps, and will provide a more detailed analysis of the law's impact on arts learning opportunities.  With more responsibility for education policy shifting to the states, consider how you can take action now to close the gaps in access to arts education in your local schools and communities.