Arts Education Bill Dies Along Party Lines

Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat - Salt Lake City)
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City)

A bill that would have required schools to spend a certain amount of state funds on arts and cultural education failed to gain the endorsement of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee Tuesday.

SB 98 – Arts and Cultural Education Spending, which was sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), called for school districts, charter schools, and institutes of higher education to allocate 3 percent of state funds toward arts and cultural education.

“We’re probably over 3 percent now, but we don’t have any metric to know what we’re spending on the arts. This bill would take that amount of money and use it for the arts,” said Dabakis.

Dabakis commends the state for fostering an education system that is both employer- and job-based. “I admire that. I think that’s the way to have a focused future.” At the same time, however, he fears arts and culture have been left behind.

A good example, according to Dabakis, is the bill passed in 2015 that requires high school students to pass a 50-question citizenship naturalization test prior to graduating. A composite course doesn’t inspire students the way arts or culture can. “It can’t touch their soul. It prepares them for a good job and goodness knows that’s where we’ve got to be. If we spend 97 percent of the money with USHE and UCAT and those, amen, but we’ve got to remember that we cannot ignore this path.”

Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden) has some reservations about the bill possibly setting a bad precedent. “What if we started to say there’s got to be a certain percentage that is in business, a certain percentage that has to be in science, etc. This feels like it is setting a precedent that makes me uncomfortable in terms of thinking about people managing. We ought to be focused on the kinds of programs we want to have in the school and providing funding supporting for those, as opposed to trying to track what’s there and somehow put some limitation on that,” said Millner.

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of the Utah Cultural Alliance, testified that while traveling around the state she has encountered a number of school board members who want to provide more arts education but are unable to secure dedicated funding for such programs. “We look positively on this bill because we think that this could be a way of meeting that need,” said Young-Otterstrom.

SB 98 died on a party-line vote of 2-4.

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