Arts programs in schools provide creative outlets that can make or break a student’s educational experience, but many Phoenix public school teachers feel they are often left with school board scraps to fund their arts departments. The Arizona Department of Education allocates resources to academic categories based on annual budgets that assess each school’s financial needs.With consistent underfunding, the question arises: Why should local governments invest more in arts education, and how can they remedy the apparent neglect that public arts programs face?

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School districts often prioritize alternative academics like STEM classes by supplying funds for technology, and sports teams by purchasing athletic equipment. While these are important subjects, funding them only helps students excel in those classes directly. But a foundation in creative practices can be applied to an even broader context. Research suggests that an involvement in arts can positively impact how students perform in all areas of schoolwork.

A study by the Arts Education Partnership shows how different arts, like music and painting, help stimulate cognitive functions for academic performance. The research lists improvements in math proficiency, reading skills, scientific reasoning and content organization, all of which yield increased SAT scores and material comprehension.

These benefits are echoed by Scott Krenytzky, an arts specialist for five Mesa public schools, who has been working as an arts educator for 12 years and currently instructs hundreds of students in 36 visual arts classes. He shared his insight on why access to arts in public schools is especially vital for children during their formative early education.

“The focus is teaching skills they can use beyond my classroom,” said Krenytzky. “We always discuss the art elements, but those elements are secondary to building confidence and self esteem in these young kids,” he said. “We do a lot of cool stuff, but essentially it’s about enjoying the process of coming to school, trying hard and doing your best.”

Krenytzky’s experience explains that arts education gives students a safe space to explore their own intuitions and ideas, which acts as a foundation to their long-term progress as learners. The growth that stems from arts education is valuable to students, but with that value comes the financial cost to attain it.

The amount of money given to support arts in Phoenix public schools is determined by how many students are enrolled in existing programs, but those numbers are affected by how much money the school board has to maintain curriculum, materials and wages for instructors. Anabel Olguin, a performing arts teacher at Maryvale High School, said common struggles result from this.

“Having more arts teachers means that more students can enroll in arts classes, and therefore the funding increases. However, if the schools don’t have enough money to hire arts teachers, then there will be less opportunities for students to be involved in the arts, which will result in less funding,” said Olguin.

This pattern creates a cycle that schools can get stuck in when attempting to expand the arts education they offer. “When it comes down to it, adequate funding is needed in order for schools to even be able to offer arts related opportunities to their students,” said Olguin.

Today, Phoenix public schools are experiencing a new cause for the shortage of funding towards arts education. The COVID-19 pandemic has required the school board to provide remote-learning resources to students who would otherwise not have access to computers for Zoom and online assignments. This has called for a re-allocation of funds by the Arizona Department of Education, further endangering arts programs, because they tend to be first on the chopping block.

“The money used to ensure that every student can have access to a computer and internet did not appear out of nowhere. In many instances, the money was taken from departments such as the arts,” said Olguin. “I am hoping that these setbacks don’t have a lasting negative impact on something so important for students as the arts,” she said.