Welcome to the first in a four-part series by Dr. John Benham, a nationally renowned music educator who specializes in helping save music programs that have been targeted for devastating budget cuts. In his first piece for AMP, Dr. Benham introduces us to two counties in which cuts to music education are proposed. In subsequent articles, he’ll look at the deep impact a music coalition can have, introduce us to the reverse economics that will impress bean-counters, and show us the results from taking (or not!) the right steps at the right times.

Tale of 2 Counties Benham

There are four keys to successful advocacy for music education:

 Understanding the School System
A Well-organized Music Coalition
A Unified Music Profession
Understanding the Decision-Making Process

 Make it five: Pro-active Involvement in the Process

It was spring of the year, a time when school districts take what seems to have become an annual trek down the budget cut lane. Two counties, far apart, get the news: budget deficit…cuts pending… music at the top of the list!

The Districts: The Impending Financial Crisis

Foresight County, the twelfth largest district in the United States, has an enrollment of 172,000 students. Demographics indicate both economic and ethnic diversity. The administration has determined that the impending deficit to be $315.6 million.

Failure County, also a large urban school district, has an enrollment. 86,500 students. Demographically the district is ethnically and economically diverse, with an obvious division into two distinct areas based on those factors. While the district has been unable to determine a more specific figure it projects that the deficit will be in the neighborhood of $100-137 million.

The Music Program

Considered a national model of musical excellence, Foresight County Schools have a music curriculum that extends through all grades, with its choral and instrumental programs based on the foundation of a general music education in the elementary grades. General music options continue at the secondary level with courses such as music theory.

Students have the option to participate in beginning band and orchestra in grades four through six. Students are “pulled out” of the classroom for elementary instrumental instruction. There are 25,000 students that participate in the elementary instrumental music program.

The music program in Failure County is recognized for an extensive curriculum, similar to Foresight County in many ways, with two major differences.

  1. Instrumental music (band and orchestra} instruction is available in grades four and five. Students in grade six are part of a middle school configuration.
  2. The highest concentration of enrollment in music performance is in half of the district with the least ethnic diversity and the highest economic level.

Students are “pulled out” of the classroom for elementary instrumental instruction. There are 8,500 students participating.

The Administrative Proposal

The Foresight district administration proposed the elimination of the entire elementary instrumental curriculum, with the projected loss of 117 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions, plus hidden cuts. Potential hidden cuts were never determined during the process of developing the Status Report.

In Failure County, the music coordinator recommended eliminating the elementary instrumental curriculum. As a choral director he suggested to the administration that the potential loss of enrollment in instrumental music would be recovered by recruiting those students into the choral programs at the secondary level. The position is an obvious factor of division among the music faculty. As a means of avoiding potential political outfall, the administration proposes outsourcing the program to a music store and making it an after school program.

Adoption of the proposal would result in the minimum elimination of 59 FTE instrumental teachers. Upon further research, it is discovered that the administration has determined to increase music class sizes (hidden cuts) by establishing a minimum enrollment of 40 students. This would eliminate all secondary general music classes, and any music performance class such as advanced ensembles. An additional seven to ten FTE would be eliminated.

John L. Benham, Ed.D. is author of Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. (Co-published with the National Association for Music Education). Visit his website at http://www.save-music.org

The names of the two counties are fictitious; however, the two cases are real, and occurred simultaneously in separate states. All data is extracted from the records of the Status Reports composed by the author, who served as consultant to both districts.

Hidden cuts are reductions to the music program in budget line items that may include music, but do not specifically name them, such as “increase class sizes.”

©John L. Benham
Used by permission

Benham-212x300Dr. John Benham’s area of expertise is saving and restoring music programs in the face of budget cuts. With over 30 years as a music educator and six years on a school board, his personal knowledge and experience has provided a unique understanding to help teachers and parents go before a school board and administration with language they understand. His methods are responsible for saving over $72 million in budgetary cuts to music programs, leading to the restoration of over 2,000 teaching positions and the continuation of music programs for over 500,000 students. In addition to his work as consultant with NABIM (The Band and Instrument Manufacturers Association), he is author of Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision and has been featured as a speaker at conferences throughout North America. He is a member of the ACDA and ASTA advocacy committees, and the MENC Task Force on advocacy. His plan and elements of his approach to this very significant problem have become a part of NAMM’s advocacy kit for music.