the 1.5 percent

Arts education gets a rare spotlight on the campaign trail

1375222377305editIt represents just 1.5 percent of the city schools budget and often gets left out of education stump speeches, but arts education got the mayoral field’s full attention on Tuesday night at a forum at Teachers College Columbia University.

During a rotation of 12-minute interviews with public radio hosts Kurt Anderson and Leonard Lopate, a slew of candidates were each asked a version of the same question: Will you do a better job in funding arts education?

Arts programs in schools across the country have been the first to get cut as districts faced with economic downturns shifted their priorities toward meeting state standards in reading and math. Under the Bloomberg administration, arts spending has wavered around $300 million, or about $300 per student, a disbursement that each candidate said was not good enough.

While all the candidates said they’d spend more than the current annual totals, none pledged a specific dollar amount.

“It’s always dangerous to pick a number,” said Bill Thompson.

Thompson said that arts education had to be a part of how schools are evaluated, an idea that other candidates have proposed as well. When asked how he’d do that, Thompson said he’d require principals to allot more of their schools’ budgets to arts programs and hold them accountable if they didn’t

“There are some things that you can’t measure,” Thompson added.

Under the new teacher evaluation system that the next mayor will inherit, schools are required under state law to evaluate arts teachers, some of which will be based on measures of student learning.

Bill de Blasio, who has proposed taxing the city’s wealthiest residents to fund pre-school and afterschool education programs, gave a fiscally restrained answer about support for arts. He said that with negotiations of new contracts for more than 100 city labor groups facing the next mayor, he preferred not to make a specific funding commitment.

“I am a progressive, but I can count,” de Blasio said. “I’d like to be honest with people about the fact that we have a very serious problem the next few years.”

Republican candidate Joe Lhota said that he considered arts and music education “critical to the formulation of young minds” and said it should be “part of the core” that is part of the Department of Education’s baseline budget.

“When you make it supplemental, you also make it the first thing to cut,” Lhota said. “I think that when you cut arts education you make a mistake.”

Lhota suggested that one way for schools sharing the same building to expand arts programs affordably could be to share an arts teachers. Currently, fewer than half of all schools employ an arts teacher.

The candidates also used their speaking time to share some personal details about their own experience in the arts. Lhota said a love of classical music is “what charges me up and what calms me down,” though he hated the opera music that his old boss Rudy Giuliani listened to. John Liu played the violin, and Bill Thompson said that playing the viola at Midwood High School taught him discipline and improved his math skills.

De Blasio said that his son’s experience at M.S. 51’s drama program improved his confidence and public speaking skills.

“A lot came out of it that were sort of life skills, not just enhancement of the rest of education,” de Blasio said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.