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Utah's elementary art programs at risk

Many people realize the importance of the arts in the development of children’s social, psychological and educational skills. However, the arts in public schools — more specifically elementary schools — are doing their best to stay afloat in a pool of economic hardship.

With this economic struggle, people and school districts are looking to cut art programs in preference to other subjects.

According to the Utah Education Association, school districts across the state lack funding for art or music teachers in elementary schools.

Thomas Herb, assistant professor of music education, said it is important for these programs to exist and thrive in elementary schools because it is a part of the human experience.

“If the schools exist to teach children how to become good, productive humans, then they have to learn how the arts work,” he said.

According to Herb, Utah secondary schools are on par with other schools in the nation in terms of the art programs, but the elementary schools could use some help.

He said that in his experience of working in 10 different states, Utah has the weakest elementary arts education program.

“I base this on the fact that all of the states I worked in previously had government requirements that students get a certain number of minutes a week of arts instruction from a full time teacher with salary and benefits, who is certified with an Arts Education degree and licensure,” he said. “Utah does not have this requirement.”

Herb said he knows of teachers that do instruct in the arts on a part-time, hourly basis and do a good job, but the overall system is weak.

“I am certain those teachers would prefer to get a full salary and benefits, and be better teachers because of it,” he said.

Across the nation, arts programs vary depending on the state and the budget provided for schooling.

Herb said creating full-time jobs for certified art and music teachers at every school would help ensure a quality art education for the students, but the problem is funding it.

“You would need a general public who would rather pay higher taxes for better arts programs, rather than pay lower taxes for weaker arts programs,” he said.

The Utah Education Association said Utah taxpayers are willing to pay extra tax dollars to fund education.

“Historically, survey after survey confirms that Utah taxpayers want tax dollars to fund education, and in fact, would be willing to pay additional taxes if that money is dedicated to public school teacher salaries and reducing class size,” said the UEA website.

Alina Remkes, a junior music education major from Fillmore, said she is concerned about the future of the arts in schools and doesn’t understand why Utah doesn’t raise taxes to accommodate the arts in the schools.

“I guess schools don’t care as much about the arts, so it’s not important enough for them to raise the taxes for it,” she said. “But if the taxpayers are willing to pay, then why aren’t they raising the taxes?”

She said there needs to be more dedication toward the arts in order for the programs to be successful.

“It needs to be a priority among administrators, teachers and students, as well as government officials,” she said. “If there is proper encouragement for it, then the students will be more likely to succeed.”

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