The City of New York has historically struggled with equitable funding in its public education system. As a result, funding for arts education in New York City public schools has steadily declined. This trend further perpetuates a widespread cultural attitude that undervalues the academic benefits of arts education for students. This lack of support for the arts has particularly impacted schools located in low-income neighborhoods which suffer from low engagement with—and participation in—arts programs and arts instruction. Rocco Landesman, Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in his study on arts and achievement for at-risk youth that “the only outcomes we should need to measure for a music class is whether the child had the chance to create, enjoy, and understand music.” The New York City Department of Education has attempted to offer all students the chance to participate in arts education through various policy initiatives. In particular, New York City’s Blueprint for the Arts curriculum initiative and its supplemental accountability program, ArtsCount, were implemented to enhance students’ access to arts instruction. The decade following their implementation, however, revealed obvious shortcomings and failures. Moreover, the lack of reform of these initiatives perpetuates the culture of unequal access that is so commonly associated with arts education.
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act states: “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Particularly, Title VI imposes regulations for the implementation of federal funds. Such regulations require that recipients may not “utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respect individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin.”
In 2014, the NYC Comptroller released a report describing the failures of ArtsCount, focusing in part on inequities in the distribution of arts instruction across New York City school districts. The results demonstrate a positive correlation between the presence of art instructors, art classrooms, and art programs to socioeconomic status and racial makeup of particular districts. These results are especially problematic as the very purpose of these initiatives is to enhance access to arts education for New York City students. This Note will explore several possible explanations for these failures, including societal and policy-based influences on school leaders in low-income neighborhoods, and how those influences were exacerbated by inefficient systems of reporting such as New York City’s ArtsCount.
Prior to the implementation of BluePrint for the Arts and ArtsCount, New York City provided arts funding through Project ARTS, a grant program that provided schools with dedicated arts funding. This program required that Project ARTS funding was spent in areas related directly to the arts. Transitioning to Blueprint for the Arts and ArtsCount allows the New York City Department of Education to take a passive approach to implementing arts education funding. With ArtsCount, funding that would have previously been dedicated to the arts is now provided to school leaders through general school budgets using ArtsCount as a method to ensure accountability for investing in arts programs. However, the inadequacy of ArtsCount has led to many students in areas of lower socioeconomic status—primarily students of color—having to go without the necessary arts education curriculum as put forth by BluePrint for the Arts, the very curriculum that ArtsCount was meant to ensure.
The inadequacy of this accountability program poses the question of possible Title VI violations. The several years following the Comptroller report have seen little change, despite recommendations for how to mitigate such discriminatory effects. In order to prove a violation of Title VI’s implementing regulations, proof of discriminatory effect will suffice to establish liability and proof of discriminatory intent is not needed. While it could be argued that such a funding structure is necessary and justified, offering less discriminatory alternatives would demonstrate that this structure is still indeed a Title VI violation. This Note explores potential alternatives to the current accountability framework, including reframing how arts education should and may be spent, and rethinking the way that data regarding arts education instruction is collected.
Overall, the goal of this Note is to assess the current status of arts education in New York City Public Schools and how its current funding structure and accountability program impacts the presence of arts education across New York City school districts. This assessment will focus primarily on the New York City public school system, as New York City is a cultural hub of the world with communities of different races, ethnicities, and many socioeconomic backgrounds. Part I of this Note provides background information on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, societal conceptions on the value of arts education, the history of arts education funding in New York City, and the implementation of ArtsCount. Part II of this Note assesses New York City’s current accountability framework in context of Title VI’s implementing regulation, considering the history of race disparities within arts education at the national and local levels. Part III of this Note proposes an alternative which may mitigate such discriminatory implications and increase access to arts education among New York City Public School students. This solution involves a more detailed system of reporting, a mid-level compromise for discretion offered to school leaders over arts funding, and education initiatives offering incentives to increase arts integration in daily common core subject areas. Essentially, this Note articulates the need for reform of the current framework meant to create equal access to arts education for New York City public school students. While focusing on the prevalent racial and socioeconomic disparities that continue under this regime, this Note utilizes the protection offered by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to validate the right to reformation.
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