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Petition to Secretary of Education, Elizabeth P. “Betsy” DeVos

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, state and local education agencies began taking immediate action toward implementing the new education reforms.

The law itself includes numerous arts-friendly provisions, which can only be implemented with support, and enforcement, by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Additionally, the Administration's budget recommendation for FY2018 has not been favorable for the funding authorized for the specific arts-friendly provisions.

In the following petition, we call on Secretary DeVos to stand up for the arts with respect to the Every Student Succeeds Act, Title I and the arts, STEAM, and to pursue full funding to enable equitable access to arts education for America’s students.
 
Petition Text
Petition to Secretary of Education, Elizabeth P. “Betsy” DeVos:
 
Dear Secretary DeVos:

As you know, the arts help prepare our students for success in school, in work, and in life. Your personal dedication to the arts through philanthropy in Michigan and across the country shows that you have a firm belief in the transformative power of the arts. In the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, the arts are included in the definition of a ‘well-rounded education’ as a result of tremendous research that has been conducted demonstrating the positive impact of the arts in teaching and learning to develop a 21st century workforce. Therefore, I call on you to fully support the below arts-friendly provisions in federal law and through guidance and leadership provide clarity about the role of the arts in state and local implementation of the law.

ESSA Plans & Accountability Systems: Within ESSA, the arts are included within the definition of a well-rounded education. You have previously stated that the greater flexibility in the law would allow for states and districts to provide greater arts programs. We request that when approving state ESSA implementation plans and their subsequent revisions, that the Department pay special attention about the role of the arts in each state. We request that the arts be a required part of the state accountability system working to guarantee access to arts learning for all students in all schools, in every community.

Title I: In 2013, the Department issued a letter which articulated the eligibility to use federal Title I funds for arts integration programs—as a way not only to boost student achievement but also to improve school culture, increase student engagement and attendance, and provide our students with a means for developing 21st-century skills such as creativity and innovation. This has been a strategy pursued in states like California, Arizona, and New Jersey. In a time of rapid educational change, state and district leaders may become confused about the eligibility of these funds and would benefit from greater clarity. We request that you release a similar letter outlining the eligibility of funds for use in arts-integration programs to achieve the goals of the Title I program.

STEAM: As you may know, the final ESSA legislation included an amendment which recognized the importance of the arts and design in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Federal recognition of the role of the arts (dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts) integrated with the STEM subjects has become widely celebrated and brings about the creativity and innovation we seek from education. We request that you support the flexibility of funds to support arts integration and STEAM programs to provide 21st century learning for students.

Funding: The Administration's budget proposal calls for drastic cuts to funding which would impede the delivery of arts education around the country. Specifically, the money authorized in Title IV, part A, of ESSA would allow states and local districts to take advantage of the increased flexibility and address the gaps in access to arts education present in communities nationwide. Funding for Titles I and II and the Assistance for Arts Education program are essential in supporting high need schools and teacher professional development. We request that you work with Congress to fully fund the numerous provisions of ESSA to fully realize the opportunities for arts learning for every student.

Our country still faces an issue of access due to local control and school-based decision making. In 2012, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that high-poverty schools are significantly less likely to provide students with access to arts education. Former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stated, “This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue.” Therefore, we seek abundant clarity about the role of the arts, specifically in the education of students of color, students in rural communities, students who are classified as low-SES, English Language Learners, or those who require special education. The arts provide a pathway to success for all.

Through your guidance and leadership, state Boards of Education, local superintendents and education leaders across the country would understand just how vital the arts can be to school transformation.  This move would showcase your department's belief that all students deserve a well-rounded education, which includes the arts. Empowered by better information and your strong leadership, state and local education leaders can help ensure that Every Student Succeeds, just as the new federal law intends.

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