Arts and Culture Politics

Kentucky arts teachers are asking lawmakers to require that all public schools provide visual and performing arts classes.

State law currently only requires high schools to provide art classes — one credit — though many local school districts have arts requirements for elementary and middle schools.

A group of arts educators called the Kentucky Coalition for Arts Education is pushing for the bill, called the Arts Education Equity Act, ahead of next year’s legislative session. A similar version of the bill was proposed but never received a hearing this year.

Tanya Bromley, with the Kentucky Music Educators Association, said the bill would ensure that all schools provide visual and performing arts classes.

“Basically, it creates accountability by protecting time for those students whose time is not protected,” Bromley said. “High school students have time for arts study protected with one credit. Middle school, elementary schools have nothing to that regard.”

Bromley presented the proposal during a meeting of the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education.

The bill would also require the Kentucky Department of Education to develop standards for visual and performing arts programs and include information about schools’ art classes in their annual report cards, which were released for the first time earlier this week.

Bromley said that Kentucky’s new accountability system is the first time in 40 years that schools haven’t been held formally accountable for providing access to arts education.

“And that’s basically the nutshell of where we are and why we need this bill,” Bromley said.

Jane Dewey, director of arts education at Danville Independent Schools, said the arts help students appreciate multiple perspectives.

“The arts help children say what cannot be said and in this era our schools are dealing with how do we raise our students’ development of social and emotional learning,” Dewey said.

Rep. Lisa Willner, a Democrat from Louisville, expressed support for the bill, calling arts “the great equalizer.”

“We need to not treat it as something extra on the side, it’s fundamental to who we are as human beings,” Willner said.

If passed, the policy would go into effect during the 2021-2022 school year. The legislature convenes in January to write a new two-year budget for the state.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.