The Slow Death of Art and Music in K-12 Education: One More Reason Why Austerity Sucks

When I was in school, I always looked forwards to art class. I wasn’t very good at it (in fact, I was dreadful), but I did enjoy it. It was something to look forward to in the day. From the Great State of Pennsylvania, we read that budget cuts are hammering art and music classes:

Art and music classes in Pennsylvania’s elementary schools may be headed down the same road as language instruction – desirable but dispensable, too costly in an era of ever-tightening public education budgets.

In Delaware County’s blue-collar Upper Darby school district, pressure to allocate more money and more classroom time to core academic subjects could trigger the elimination of elementary school music and art classes, physical-education teachers, and librarians this fall…

A statewide survey of school districts last summer showed that among those responding, 44 percent reduced course offerings not required for graduation, including foreign languages, arts, music, physical education, and some elective English, science, and social-studies courses.

“We’re seeing fiscal stress in even the wealthier school districts,” said Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, a Harrisburg-based policy and advocacy group that recently launched an arts and education initiative. Many “that have survived until this year without making big cuts have run out of other options, so art and music could be among the casualties.”

The worst-case scenario is already playing out in Delaware County’s Chester Upland district, which eliminated virtually all arts and music classes last fall, and Harrisburg, which is considering cutting all art and music starting this fall. Other districts are weighing less drastic cuts, said David Davare, research director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

For more than three years, I’ve been saying that the federal government should just send money (via deficit spending*) to the states and municipalities. They will spend the money–certainly Pennsylvania’s school districts would. This is not hard. We can’t run out of money, nor do we have to worry about being unable to borrow money (Japan has far more public debt than we do and can still borrow at great rates). Spend the damn money and educate our kids.

*I’m typically not advocating ‘printing money’, but selling bonds to finance this spending. Of course, since bond sales are ludicrously oversubscribed there’s no problem here. Besides, bond sales need not function as a mechanism for financing government spending (boldface mine):

Second, the simple solution to his “debt” paranoia would be for the US government to change its legislation/regulation environment and cease issuing any public debt. The US Federal Reserve could credit any bank account and clear any cheque that the US Treasury desired/issued and government spending would proceed as usual.

The US government issues its own currency and, in intrinsic terms, never needs to fund its own spending in US dollars. The issuing of public debt is an entirely voluntary act by the US government and provides the bond markets with “corporate welfare”. Just imagine what the uproar would be from the bond markets and investment banks if the US government announced it was cutting off this source of corporate welfare.

It happened in 2001 in Australia when the Australian government had virtually caused the official bond markets to dry up when it used the surpluses it was running to run down outstanding debt. The Sydney Futures Exchange led the charge and demanded that the Government continue issuing debt, which gave the game way – if debt-issuance was to fund net government spending (deficits) then why would they be issuing debt when they were running surpluses?

Answer: it was patently obvious that the outstanding debt was private wealth and its risk-free nature allowed the private investment institutions to price other risky assets and maintain a safe haven when uncertainty rose (by holding bonds).

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