CSU Art Professor Comments on Funding Impact for Denver Public Schools Art Classes
Art | March 08, 2016
By Yesenia Robles, as appearing in The Denver Post: Denver And The West
Almost four years after voters approved extra funds to restore arts programs in Denver schools, a report released Thursday argues it is unclear how the money is used and whether “quality” programs are available to all students.
The report from A-Plus Denver looks at how Denver Public Schools has used about $40 million designated for arts in the past three years — about $6 million per year from the 2012 mill levy override and almost $9 million per year from the one in 2003.
The report argues that because the district didn’t track art offerings before the funding was approved, there is not a way of knowing if there are more class options now or if the quality improved.
“While we know that funds went to schools for the arts and music, we have no understanding of how these funds either restored arts offerings or enhanced program quality because the district had no baseline of arts programs, no clear definition of quality,” the report states. “We are far from understanding the impact of these dollars.”
John Albright, the district’s deputy chief of staff, said he agrees the district needs a better idea of how arts are taught in DPS, but says the district does know how money is spent.
“I think we have pretty clear data that show an uptick in educators across our schools that’s happening at the same time that we are getting hammered in funding,” Albright said.
DPS officials do know, for instance, that every elementary school in the district has some art class. Of all district-run schools, 158 of 165 schools budgeted for art teachers in the current school year, and the district cites an increase of about 30 new art teachers in the district from 2012-13 to 2013-14.
Patrick Fahey, professor of art education at Colorado State University and regional vice president for the National Art Education Association, says art programs are not all equal.
“It isn’t just about making a pot or a painting. It’s much, much more,” Fahey said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve developed standards.”
Standards — not curriculum, he stressed — help educators think about art as a process that involves critical thinking such as planning, ideation and analyzing.
DPS offers training on how to use the state’s art standards but does not require teachers take it. Fahey believes classes following the standards can be quality programs.
“The district is flying blind and the community is flying blind about where we can find arts programs and whether or not we would know if they’re good or not,” said Van Schoales, CEO of the nonprofit A-Plus Denver. “Our primary recommendation is that the district needs to make sure we know what arts programs there are and where they are and what level of quality they are.”
DPS is preparing a census of its arts programs, in part as a response to that recommendation. Some information should be ready this fall.
Also this fall, district officials likely will ask Denver voters again for an increase in district funding. Leaders are just starting discussions with the community about what funding needs are most urgent.
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, firstname.lastname@example.org or @yeseniarobles