Education Politics

While Terri Foster and I sat in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency on 4th Street on Thursday, hundreds of young vocalists crowded the escalators — clutching binders of music and practicing their scales as they ascended to the second floor.

It’s day one of the Kentucky Music Educators Association conference, a yearly event where state music students and teachers alike come to learn about new performance and instruction techniques. But, according to Foster — who is the artistic director of the Louisville Youth Choir — there is also an advocacy component to the conference as well. And this year, Senate Bill 1 is a big topic.

SB1 is a current proposal for statutory revision that would affect school testing and accountability — and, in part, it deals with how arts instruction plays into a well-rounded education system.

“One of the things that we think is very key as music educators in our state is that arts be recognized for a core subject,” Foster says. “And that it is evaluated and assessed and part of the curriculum, just like the other subject areas that are represented.”

A Call to Action

For arts educators in Kentucky, there have been several main concerns regarding SB1. The first main objection is the proposal that students would be allowed to substitute non-arts courses for the Visual and Performing Arts requirement for high school graduation.

State art instructors voiced their concerns early on via a “call to action” letter formatted by the Kentucky Coalition for Arts Education. It was attached to an analysis of the bill, which read, in part:

KCAE and its member organizations — the Kentucky Music Educators Association; the Kentucky Association of Arts Education; The Kentucky Theatre Association; and the Kentucky Association for Physical Education, Recreation and Dance — respectfully remind members of the General Assembly that arts education must have statutory support if we are to ensure that schools will provide equal access to courses that develop students’ abilities to apply core concepts in the visual and performing arts and express their creative talents and interests in the arts.

As a result, Sen. Mike Wilson — the chair of the senate education committee — confirmed on Friday that the portion of the bill which would have allowed the non-arts substitution, has been stricken.

“That is something we were gladdened by,” says Jane Dewey, the facilitator of the Kentucky Coalition for Arts Education.

But, Dewey says, there is another major concern regarding the bill.

“We are still concerned about the lack of the inclusion of the arts in overall school accountability — and by that, we don’t necessarily mean that we are fighting to have a number attached to it,” Dewey says. “What we want is for a school to be held accountable for how they are teaching the arts to our students.”

Dewey says the language in SB1 is a little ambiguous when it comes to discussing how schools’ art programs and their effectiveness from year-to-year will be reviewed. She argues that if a program is not adequately reviewed for quality, there’s the risk of it losing its importance to school-level decision-makers.

Dewey says the Kentucky Coalition for Arts Education is pushing for clarification on this point — something Foster, the Louisville Youth Choir artistic director, supports.

“We want to make sure that it is a very focused and pointed message that there really is no substitute for true music and arts education,” she says.

The bill remains under consideration by a Senate committee.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.